International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI2018), August 5-10, 2018 in Guarujá, Brazil.

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Context specific social learning in bumblebees (Bombus terrestris)

Author(s):
Harry Siviter, Harry Siviter , Monika Yordanova , Erin Mason , Ellouise Leadbeater
Institution(s):
School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK; School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK ; School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK ; School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK ; School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, UK
Under the right circumstances, responding to social information may be advantageous to animals if it provides a short cut to new information and reduces the costs associated with trial and error learning. Accordingly, foraging bumblebees have been shown to join conspecifics at food sources, potentially reducing the time it takes to learn how to identify and handle rewarding flowers. However, the value of conspecific presence as a cue to reward levels is not straightforward, because plants vary in the nectar and pollen rewards that they offer. This means that conspecific presence could indicate rewarding flowers on one plant species, where flowers have multiple nectaries that are easily shared, and unrewarding flowers on another. The aim of this experiment was to determine if bumblebees can learn to use social cues strategically, responding differentially to social cues according to the flower species upon which they are found. Individual bees foraged upon a mixed floral array containing two differently coloured artificial flower types (orange and yellow) in the laboratory. For one flower type, the presence of a conspecific (dried dead bumblebees) indicated reward, while unoccupied flowers contained no social cues. For the other, the opposite was true. After 140 flower visits for, individuals’ preferences for occupied flowers were tested in an unrewarded condition with one single flower type. If bees are capable of context-specific social learning, we predict that preferences for occupied flowers should vary according to flower type, with individuals responding appropriately according to context. Our experiment is a step towards understanding the mechanisms by which “strategic” social information use can arise.
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