The effect of foraging specialization on various learning tasks in the honey bee (Apis mellifera)

Tamar Drezner-Levy, Brian H. Smith, Sharoni Shafir*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Honey bee foragers may collect nectar, pollen, water, or propolis, and their foraging specialization has been associated with several behavioral traits. By conditioning of the proboscis extension response (PER), we compared the performance of foragers that collected nectar, pollen, both nectar and pollen, or water in several learning and choice assays. Foragers were first tested in a three-trial olfactory associative learning assay. For further tests, we selected only good learners that responded in two out of three conditioning trials. One group was tested in an additional olfactory associative learning assay involving different reward volumes and concentrations. Another group was tested for risk sensitivity in a two-alternative forced-choice PER procedure and then in a latent inhibition (LI) assay. Levels of acquisition in olfactory associative learning were highest in pollen and water foragers, and better acquisition was associated with collection of heavier pollen loads and smaller and lighter nectar loads of lower sugar concentration. Among the good learners, pollen foragers still showed better acquisition than nectar foragers when rewarded with several volumes and concentrations of sucrose solution. Pollen and nectar foragers were equally risk averse, preferring a constant reward to a variable one, and choice was not affected by pollen load weight. Contrary to a previous study, pollen and nectar foragers were similarly affected by LI. We discuss possible explanations for the discrepancy between the two studies. Overall, our results suggest that differences between foraging groups in sensitivity to various stimuli may not correspond to differences in choice behavior.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)135-148
Number of pages14
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments This work was funded by grant no. 1998232 from the United States–Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), Jerusalem, Israel. We thank Hillary Voet and Shai Morin for statistical advice and three anonymous referees for valuable comments. The experiments comply with current laws and regulations of Israel.


  • Apis mellifera
  • Latent inhibition
  • Proboscis extension conditioning
  • Risk sensitivity


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