Most of our knowledge on learning and memory formation results from extensive studies on a small number of animal species. Although features and cellular pathways of learning and memory are highly similar in this diverse group of species, there are also subtle differences. Closely related species of parasitic wasps display substantial variation in memory dynamics and can be instrumental to understanding both the adaptive benefit of and mechanisms underlying this variation. Parasitic wasps of the genus Nasonia offer excellent opportunities for multidisciplinary research on this topic. Genetic and genomic resources available for Nasonia are unrivaled among parasitic wasps, providing tools for genetic dissection of mechanisms that cause differences in learning. This study presents a robust, high-throughput method for olfactory conditioning of Nasonia using a host encounter as reward. A T-maze olfactometer facilitates high-throughput memory retention testing and employs standardized odors of equal detectability, as quantified by electroantennogram recordings. Using this setup, differences in memory retention between Nasonia species were shown. In both Nasonia vitripennis and Nasonia longicornis, memory was observed up to at least 5 days after a single conditioning trial, whereas Nasonia giraulti lost its memory after 2 days. This difference in learning may be an adaptation to species-specific differences in ecological factors, for example, host preference. The high-throughput methods for conditioning and memory retention testing are essential tools to study both ultimate and proximate factors that cause variation in learning and memory formation in Nasonia and other parasitic wasp species.
© 2012 The Authors. Genes, Brain and Behavior © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd and International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society.