Wild non-eusocial bees learn a colour discrimination task in response to simulated predation events

Naturwissenschaften. 2021 Jun 21;108(4):28. doi: 10.1007/s00114-021-01739-9.

Abstract

Despite representing the majority of bee species, non-eusocial bees (e.g. solitary, subsocial, semisocial, and quasisocial species) are comparatively understudied in learning, memory, and cognitive-like behaviour compared to eusocial bees, such as honeybees and bumblebees. Ecologically relevant colour discrimination tasks are well-studied in eusocial bees, and research has shown that a few non-eusocial bee species are also capable of colour learning and long-term memory retention. Australia hosts over 2000 native bee species, most of which are non-eusocial, yet evidence of cognitive-like behaviour and learning abilities under controlled testing conditions is lacking. In the current study, I examine the learning ability of a non-eusocial Australian bee, Lasioglossum (Chilalictus) lanarium, using aversive differential conditioning during a colour discrimination task. L. lanarium learnt to discriminate between salient blue- and yellow-coloured stimuli following training with simulated predation events. This study acts as a bridge between cognitive studies on eusocial and non-social bees and introduces a framework for testing non-eusocial wild bees on elemental visual learning tasks using aversive conditioning. Non-eusocial bee species are far more numerous than eusocial species and contribute to agriculture, economics, and ecosystem services in Australia and across the globe. Thus, it is important to study their capacity to learn flower traits allowing for successful foraging and pollination events, thereby permitting us a better understanding of their role in plant-pollinator interactions.

Keywords: Australia; Behaviour; Conditioning; Learning; Pollinators; Predation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Color
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior*