A comparison of reversal-learning abilities and sucrose response thresholds between scout and recruit honey bee (Apis mellifera) foragers

Monday, November 11, 2013
Exhibit Hall 4 (Austin Convention Center)
Morgan Carr-Markell , University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
Gene E. Robinson , Department of Entomology, Institute for Genomic Biology, Neuroscience Program, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) have long served as a model for understanding both foraging-related division of labor and the mechanisms that underlie learning, memory, and decision-making. Honey bee colonies divide foraging activities between scouts, who search independently for new sources of food, and recruits, who wait in the hive for directions to food sources. Prior comparisons of brain gene expression patterns and pharmacological manipulations indicate that multiple neurotransmitter systems are involved in the regulation of scouting in honey bees. While the mechanisms by which these neurotransmitter systems influence scouting remain unknown, these systems are known to affect both cognitive and sensory abilities. Scouts and recruits differ in their fidelity to cues associated with a food reward, which suggests that differences in reversal-learning abilities could contribute to this division of labor. We tested this hypothesis by comparing the performance of scouts and recruits in an established appetitive olfactory conditioning assay designed to measure reversal-learning ability. Our results suggest an interaction between the effects of a forager’s role (scout or recruit) and seasonal effects, but future studies are needed to clarify this relationship. In addition, previous studies have found that foraging specialization (on pollen or nectar) shows a strong relationship with sucrose responsiveness, suggesting that variation the perception of sugar rewards could also be associated with the tendency to scout. To test this possibility, we used a standard assay to determine and compare the sucrose responsiveness of scouts and recruits. We found no significant difference in responsiveness between them.
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