Learning and memory in workers reared by nutritionally stressed honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies

Heather R. Mattila, Brian H. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Chronic nutritional stress can have a negative impact on an individual's learning ability and memory. However, in social animals that share food among group members, such as the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.), it is unknown whether group-level nutritional stress is manifested in the learning performance of individuals. Accordingly, we examined learning and memory in honey bee workers reared by colonies exposed to varying degrees of long-term pollen stress. Pollen provides honey bee workers with almost all of the proteins, lipids, vitamins, and minerals that they require as larvae and adults. Colonies were created that were either chronically pollen poor or pollen rich, or were intermediate in pollen supply; treatments altered colonies' pollen stores and brood-rearing capacity. Workers from these colonies were put through a series of olfactory-conditioning assays using proboscis-extension response (PER). PER thresholds were determined, then workers learned in olfactory-conditioning trials to associate two floral odors (one novel and the other presented previously without reward) with stimulation with sucrose and a sucrose reward. The strength of the memory that was formed for the odor/sucrose association was tested after olfactory-conditioning assays ended. Colony-level nutritional status had no effect on worker learning or memory (response threshold of workers to sucrose, acquisition of the odor/sucrose association, occurrence of latent inhibition, or memory retention over 72 h). We conclude that potential effects of chronic, colony-wide nutrient deprivation on learning and memory are not found in workers, probably because colonies use brood-rearing capacity to buffer nutrient stress at the level of the individual.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-616
Number of pages8
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 15 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavioral assays
  • Conditioned learning
  • Honey bee workers
  • Latent inhibition
  • Memory
  • Nutritional stress
  • PER reflex
  • Pollen diet
  • Sucrose-response thresholds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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