Honeybee associative learning performance and metabolic stress resilience are positively associated

Gro Amdam, Erin Fennern, Nicholas Baker, Brenda Rascón

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: Social-environmental influences can affect animal cognition and health. Also, human socio-economic status is a covariate factor connecting psychometric test-performance (a measure of cognitive ability), educational achievement, lifetime health, and survival. The complimentary hypothesis, that mechanisms in physiology can explain some covariance between the same traits, is disputed. Possible mechanisms involve metabolic biology affecting integrity and stability of physiological systems during development and ageing. Knowledge of these relationships is incomplete, and underlying processes are challenging to reveal in people. Model animals, however, can provide insights into connections between metabolic biology and physiological stability that may aid efforts to reduce human health and longevity disparities. Results: We document a positive correlation between a measure of associative learning performance and the metabolic stress resilience of honeybees. This relationship is independent of social factors, and may provide basic insights into how central nervous system (CNS) function and metabolic biology can be associated. Controlling for social environment, age, and learning motivation in each bee, we establish that learning in Pavlovian conditioning to an odour is positively correlated with individual survival time in hyperoxia. Hyperoxia induces oxidative metabolic damage, and provides a measure of metabolic stress resistance that is often related to overall lifespan in laboratory animals. The positive relationship between Pavlovian learning ability and stress resilience in the bee is not equally established in other model organisms so far, and contrasts with a genetic cost of improved associative learning found in Drosophila melanogaster. Conclusions: Similarities in the performances of different animals need not reflect common functional principles. A correlation of honeybee Pavlovian learning and metabolic stress resilience, thereby, is not evidence of a shared biology that will give insight about systems integrity in people. Yet, the means to resolve difficult research questions often come from findings in distant areas of science while the model systems that turn out to be valuable are sometimes the least predictable. Our results add to recent findings indicating that honeybees can become instrumental to understanding how metabolic biology influences life outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere9740
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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