Sensitivity to a change in reward is heritable in the honeybee, Apis mellifera

Holly J. Ferguson, Susan Cobey, Brian H. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Honeybees must track changing distributions of food resources in their environment. We evaluated the genetic basis for interindividual differences in this ability by selecting lines of honeybees that differed in their tendency to reverse a learned discrimination between two odours. We show that individual variation in reversal learning performance, which is an analogue of natural foraging problems such as risk sensitivity, has a heritable component. Selection on drones, which are haploid, was sufficient to obtain a significant selection response after a single generation. In addition, worker age and/or task specialization, in terms of performance of housekeeping versus outside duties, is a source of environmental control over expression of reversal performance. Finally, we identified a correlated response in latent inhibition, in which pre-exposure to a conditioned stimulus (CS) retards learning about that CS when it is subsequently paired with reinforcement. From an ecological standpoint, our results suggest that colonies that contain a variety of genetic lineages may be able to target foragers to learning tasks in which they are genetically predisposed to do well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-534
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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