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Evidence of cognitive spezialization in an insect: proficiency is maintained across elemental and higher-order visual learning but not between sensory modalities in honey bees

Citation

Finke, Valerie et al. (2021), Evidence of cognitive spezialization in an insect: proficiency is maintained across elemental and higher-order visual learning but not between sensory modalities in honey bees , Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.1ns1rn8v5

Abstract

Individuals differing in their cognitive abilities and foraging strategies may confer a valuable benefit to their social groups as variability may help responding flexibly in scenarios with different resource availability. Individual learning proficiency may either be absolute or vary with the complexity or the nature of the problem considered. Determining if learning abilities correlate between tasks of different complexity or between sensory modalities has a high interest for research on brain modularity and task-dependent specialisation of neural circuits. The honeybee Apis mellifera constitutes an attractive model to address this question due to its capacity to successfully learn a large range of tasks in various sensory domains. Here we studied whether the performance of individual bees in a simple visual discrimination task (a discrimination between two visual shapes) is stable over time and correlates with their capacity to solve either a higher-order visual task (a conceptual discrimination based on spatial relations between objects) or an elemental olfactory task (a discrimination between two odorants). We found that individual learning proficiency within a given task was maintained over time and that some individuals performed consistently better than others within the visual modality, thus showing consistent aptitude across visual tasks of different complexity. By contrast, performance in the elemental visual-learning task did not predict performance in the equivalent elemental olfactory task. Overall, our results suggest the existence of cognitive specialisation within the hive, which may contribute to ecological social success.