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Biol Lett. 2009 Jun 23;5(3):310-2. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2008.0692. Epub 2009 Mar 4.

Bumble-bees learn the value of social cues through experience.

Author information

  • 1School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Research Centre for Psychology, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS, UK. e.leadbeater@sussex.ac.uk

Abstract

Natural selection should lead animals to use social cues (SC) when they are useful, and disregard them when they are not. Theoretical investigation predicts that individuals should thus employ social learning 'strategies', but how might such context specificity be achieved on a proximate level? Operant conditioning, whereby the use of SC is reinforced through rewarding results, provides a potential mechanism. We investigate the role of reinforcement in joining behaviour in bumble-bees, Bombus terrestris. When bees visit unfamiliar flower species, they prefer to probe inflorescences where others are also foraging, and here we show that such behaviour is promoted through experience when conspecific presence reliably predicts reward. Our findings highlight a straightforward, but rarely discussed, mechanism by which animals can be selective about when to use SC.

PMID:
19324653
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2679906
Free PMC Article

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