No trade-off between learning speed and associative flexibility in bumblebees: a reversal learning test with multiple colonies

Nigel E. Raine, Lars Chittka

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Potential trade-offs between learning speed and memory-related performance could be important factors in the evolution of learning. Here, we test whether rapid learning interferes with the acquisition of new information using a reversal learning paradigm. Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) were trained to associate yellow with a floral reward. Subsequently the association between colour and reward was reversed, meaning bees then had to learn to visit blue flowers. We demonstrate that individuals that were fast to learn yellow as a predictor of reward were also quick to reverse this association. Furthermore, overnight memory retention tests suggest that faster learning individuals are also better at retaining previously learned information. There is also an effect of relatedness: colonies whose workers were fast to learn the association between yellow and reward also reversed this association rapidly. These results are inconsistent with a trade-off between learning speed and the reversal of a previously made association. On the contrary, they suggest that differences in learning performance and cognitive (behavioural) flexibility could reflect more general differences in colony learning ability. Hence, this study provides additional evidence to support the idea that rapid learning and behavioural flexibility have
adaptive value.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere45096
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Early online date20 Sept 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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