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Final Report Summary - NEUROBEECOG2012 (Smart foraging: neuronal complexity, cognition and foraging in honey bees)

Objective 1. Uncertainty in honey bees: Our results for have shown that honey bees are able to selectively avoid making choices when information is limited. In so doing, they improve their success in a choice test. Which shows that even ‘simple’ invertebrates are capable of making complex and adaptive decisions, and are sensitive to variation in task difficulty. Our data suggest that a capacity to respond adaptively to difficult choices may be more general than has been previously thought. Free-flying bees were rewarded for a correct choice, punished for an incorrect choice, or could avoid choosing by exiting the trial (opting out). Bees opted out more often on difficult trials, and opting out improved their proportion of successful trials. Bees could also transfer the concept of opting out to a novel task. Our data show that bees selectively avoid difficult tasks they lack the information to solve. This finding has been considered as evidence that nonhuman animals can assess the certainty of a predicted outcome, and bees’ performance was comparable to that of primates in a similar paradigm. These results will be of interest to scientists working on comparative cognition and animal behavior, as well as those studying decision making in general in any model system.

Objective 2. Social communication of uncertainty in honey bees. We have established an observation hive with glass walls so dances can be evaluated while bees face feeding stations with varied reward variances in the field. We have now perfected the experimental technique and are exploring with colleagues in our Electronics and Engineering department the automated motion-capture analysis of bee dances online. Data collected so far indicate that bees may communicate uncertainty within the dance language. However, these experiments need to be repeated and further analysis is required to interpret the results.

Objective 3. Social dynamics and foraging performance. Initial analysis of the data collected so far suggest that bees change their foraging performance over their lifetime and individual bees show some patterns of foraging behavior that persist over their lifetime. We have already discovered that bees are consistent in their learning performance in multiple tasks and in such psychological paradigms such as the speed accuracy tradeoff. We have also found that there are direct links between bees' learning capacities and their colour preferences on the one hand, and colony foraging performance on the other hand. These results will of interest to both bee researchers investigating bee health and biology as well as those in the cognitive sciences exploring social dynamics and individual behaviors.

Objective 4. The relation between neural complexity and behavioral complexity. The search for the biological basis of intelligence is many decades old. There is modest evidence that brain size can predict intra individual cognitive abilities. But the basis of this relationship is far from being understood and will take examining the underlying structures within the brain and how they change with relation to cognitive performance. We addressed this by asking whether the density of synaptic connections within specific regions of the bee brain correlate with cognitive ability. We trained bees on a visual discrimination task where performance varied across individuals and subsequently determined the density of synaptic complexes within the associative learning center of the brain (MB). One group of bees were collected immediately after training (Learning Group) and a second group were hive restricted for 2 days, given a retention test and then collected (Memory Group). The Learning Group’s learning speed during training and the Memory Group’s performance on the retention test both correlated with MG density within the collar (visual region) of the MB. No such correlation was found within the lip (olfactory region) or in MB volume. These results suggest that the more synaptic connections present within the visual region of the bee MB the better that bee will do in both learning speed and in recall of information of a previously learnt task. These results will be of interest to any researcher interested in learning and memory and the neural mechanisms underlying these phenomena.

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United Kingdom