Heritable variation in learning performance affects foraging preferences in the honey bee (Apis mellifera)

Joseph S. Latshaw, Brian H. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


There has now been an abundance of research conducted to explore genetic bases that underlie learning performance in the honey bee (Apis mellifera). This work has progressed to the point where studies now seek to relate genetic traits that underlie learning ability to learning in field-based foraging problems faced by workers. Accordingly, the focus of our research is to explore the correlation between laboratory-based performance using an established learning paradigm and field-based foraging behavior. To evaluate learning ability, selected lines were established by evaluating queens and drones in a proboscis extension reflex (PER) conditioning procedure to measure learning in a laboratory paradigm-latent inhibition (LI). Hybrid queens were then produced from our lines selected for high and low levels of LI and inseminated with semen from many drones chosen at random. The genetically diverse worker progeny were then evaluated for expression of LI and for preference of pollen and/or nectar during foraging. Foragers from several different queens, and which had resulted from fertilization by any of several different drone fathers, were collected as they returned from foraging flights and analyzed for pollen and nectar contents. They were subsequently evaluated for expression of LI. Our research revealed that pollen foragers exhibited stronger learning, both in the presence (excitatory conditioning) and absence (LI) of reinforcement. The heightened overall learning ability demonstrated by pollen foragers suggests that pollen foragers are in general more sensitive to a large number of environmental stimuli. This mechanism could contribute toward explanations of colony-level regulation of foraging patterns among workers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-207
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavior
  • Foraging
  • Honey bees
  • Learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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