Honey bee workers undergo continuous maturation of their brain and learning abilities over their lifetime, in relationship with their capacity to take different roles in the colony as they age. Still, this neural and cognitive maturation does not follow a fully fixed developmental program. On the one hand, it can be modulated by social signals contributing to adapt individual behaviours to colony needs. On the other hand, they may be disturbed if the individual is exposed to a stressor. Our project aims at understanding how individual experience of different stimuli, and at different times during life, affect this maturation process, both at the behavioural and neural level. For this, we use olfactory learning tasks involving the resolution of ambiguities as a major readout of cognitive maturation. We showed that the capacity to solve such tasks is acquired by bees through a maturation process involving early exposure to the hive environment, and foraging experience. Besides, this ability relies on the maturation of neural circuits in specific brain centers, the mushroom bodies, which are otherwise dispensable for non-ambiguous learning tasks such as absolute or differential learning.
Collaborations: A.B. Barron (Macquarie University, Sydney), C. Groh & W. Rössler (Würzburg University)