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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2014 Jun;200(6):475-84. doi: 10.1007/s00359-014-0905-3. Epub 2014 May 17.

Foraging errors play a role in resource exploration by bumble bees (Bombus terrrestris).

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School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, TW20 0EX, UK,


If the cognitive performance of animals reflects their particular ecological requirements, how can we explain appreciable variation in learning ability amongst closely related individuals (e.g. foraging workers within a bumble bee colony)? One possibility is that apparent 'errors' in a learning task actually represent an alternative foraging strategy. In this study we investigate the potential relationship between foraging 'errors' and foraging success among bumble bee (Bombus terrestris) workers. Individual foragers were trained to choose yellow, rewarded flowers and ignore blue, unrewarded flowers. We recorded the number of errors (visits to unrewarded flowers) each bee made during training, then tested them to determine how quickly they discovered a more profitable food source (either familiar blue flowers, or novel green flowers). We found that error prone bees discovered the novel food source significantly faster than accurate bees. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the time taken to discover the novel, more profitable, food source is positively correlated with foraging success. These results suggest that foraging errors are part of an 'exploration' foraging strategy, which could be advantageous in changeable foraging environments. This could explain the observed variation in learning performance amongst foragers within social insect colonies.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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