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J Exp Biol. 2009 Apr;212(Pt 7):994-1002. doi: 10.1242/jeb.021188.

Impaired tactile learning is related to social role in honeybees.

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Technische Universität Berlin, Institut für Okologie, FR 1-1, Franklinstr. 28/29, Berlin D-10587, Germany.


Aging is commonly accompanied by a decline in cognitive functions such as learning and memory. In social insects, aging is tightly linked to social role. The honeybee (Apis mellifera L.) offers the unique opportunity to separate chronological age from social role. In the present paper, we tested whether chronological age, social role and the duration of performing this role affect tactile learning in honeybees. We compared acquisition, retention and discrimination between foragers with short and long foraging durations and age-matched nurse bees. Our data show that chronological age is of minor importance for tactile learning, retention and discrimination whereas social role has a decisive impact. Tactile acquisition is severely impaired in bees that have foraged for more than two weeks but not in nurse bees of the same chronological age. Interestingly, neither discrimination nor retention appear to be impaired by long foraging duration. The complex associations between acquisition, discrimination and retention in bees of different social roles open up rich possibilities for future studies on the neuronal correlates of behavioural performance and underline that the honeybee has great potential as a model system in the biology of aging.

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