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Learning about pollen

Abstract: “In contrast to the wealth of knowledge concerning sucrose-rewarded learning, the question of whether bees learn when they collect pollen from flowers has been little addressed. The nutritional value of pollen varies considerably between species, and it may be that bees learn the features of flowers that produce pollen best suited to the dietary requirements of their larvae. It is still unknown however, whether a non-ingestive reward-pathway for pollen learning exists, and how foraging bees sense differences between pollen types. Here we adopt a novel experimental approach testing the learning ability of bees with pollen rewards. Bumblebees were reared under controlled laboratory conditions. To establish which pollen rewards are distinguishable, individual bees were given the choice of collecting two types of pollen, diluted to varying degrees with indigestible alpha-cellulose. Bees preferentially collected a particular pollen type, but this was not always the most concentrated sample. Preferences were influenced by the degree of similarity between samples and also by the period of exposure, with bees more readily collecting samples of lower pollen concentration after five trials. When trained differentially, bees were able to associate an initially less-preferred contextual colour with the more concentrated sample, whilst their pollen preferences did not change. Successful learning of contextual cues seems to maintain pollen foraging preferences over repeated exposures, suggesting that fast learning of floral cues may preclude continuous sampling and evaluation of alternative reward sources, leading to constancy in pollen-foraging.”

Nicholls, E. K., & de Ibarra, N. H. (2014). Bees associate colour cues with differences in pollen rewards. The Journal of experimental biology, jeb-106120.

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Categories: Papers from 2014
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