We have investigated how optimal coding for neural systems changes with the time available for decoding. Optimization was in terms of maximizing information transmission. We have estimated the parameters for Poisson neurons that optimize Shannon transinformation with the assumption of rate coding. We observed a hierarchy of phase transitions from binary coding, for small decoding times, toward discrete (M -ary) coding with two, three and more quantization levels for larger decoding times. We postulate that the presence of subpopulations with specific neural characteristics could be a signiture of an optimal population coding scheme and we use the mammalian auditory system as an example.© (2007) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.