Different thresholds for detection and discrimination of odors in the honey bee (Apis mellifera)

Geraldine A. Wright, Brian H. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Naturally occurring odors used by animals for mate recognition, food identification and other purposes must be detected at concentrations that vary across several orders of magnitude. Olfactory systems must therefore have the capacity to represent odors over a large range of concentrations regardless of dramatic changes in the salience, or perceived intensity, of a stimulus. The stability of the representation of an odor relative to other odors across concentration has not been extensively evaluated. We tested the ability of honey bees to discriminate pure odorants across a range of concentrations at and above their detection threshold. Our study showed that pure odorant compounds became progressively easier for honey bees to discriminate with increasing concentration. Discrimination is, therefore, a function of odorant concentration. We hypothesize that the recruitment of sensory cell populations across a range of concentrations may be important for odor coding, perhaps by changing its perceptual qualities or by increasing its salience against background stimuli, and that this mechanism is a general property of olfactory systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-135
Number of pages9
JournalChemical Senses
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Coding
  • Concentration
  • Discrimination
  • Honey bee
  • Invariance
  • Olfaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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