Home > Papers from 2015 > Sensori-motor contributions to flower learning

Sensori-motor contributions to flower learning

This week there are two new papers from the Chittka lab which look at the pattern learning of bumblebees. Together they raise interesting questions about the sensori-motor basis of behaviours that can also be described in terms of cognitive processes. Firstly, Hunt and Chittka describe how, after two phases of learning, bees can chose a previously unseen stimulus which combines features of the prior learned stimuli. This can be explained if there is some ‘merging’ of memories, a phenomenon which has been described for human memory studies. In the second paper, Wolf et al show how there are marked differences in the learning of patterns depending on whether those patterns are presented horizontally or vertically. This demonstrates clearly that sensori-motor constraints are fundamental in the learning of rewarding patterns.
My first thought, when putting these two results together, is that there might be sensori-motor mechanisms underpinning the apparant expression of a merged memory. The idea of a merged memory comes from behavioural choices made by a bee (not an identified neural engram) and therefore the ‘novel’ behaviour which is indicative of a merged memory could be the result of residual sensori-motor motifs (appropriate for the initial training phases) which are averaged ‘through the behaviour of the animal’ rather than cognitively in the brain. Therefore I would suggest we don’t yet know whether this behaviour represents an analogous process to those implicated in human memory studies.
Kathryn L. Hunt and Lars Chittka (2015) Merging of Long-Term Memories in an Insect. Current Biology. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.01.023
Stephan Wolf, Mark Roper, and Lars Chittka (2015) Bumblebees utilize floral cues differently on vertically and horizontally arranged flowers. Behavioral Ecology.  doi:10.1093/beheco/arv010
Categories: Papers from 2015
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