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Paris, January 14, 2009

Natural predispositions determine the social roles of bees

Bees have an innate tendency to form social connections. What is the origin of this social behavior? Researchers at the Centre de recherches sur la cognition animale (CRCA) (CNRS/ Université de Toulouse 3) have discovered that distribution of labor, which is a feature of the social organization of bee colonies, is a result of the existence of insects specialized in aversive and appetitive responses to stimuli. They also noted that these same specializations also determine the learning and memorization abilities of individual bees. Some bees excel at learning problems associated with food rewards, whereas others master problems associated with punishments, thus reinforcing the division of labor within the colony. These results appeared in the 14 January 2009 issue of PLoS One.

The team of researchers in Toulouse, directed by Martin Giurfa, tested the response of hundreds of bees to sugar and to a low-voltage electric shock.  The result was that some bees responded preferentially and innately to positive stimuli(1) like food, while others responded more to aversive stimuli such as electric shock.  Furthermore, the insects responding actively to sugar do not necessarily respond to electric shock, and vice versa. This shows that within bee colonies, there are specialized roles, defined by the positive or negative value of stimuli to which they respond innately.

 

This particular sensibility translates to remarkable differences in terms of learning and memorization: insects which are highly sensitive to a given stimulus are better at learning and memorizing an association between a smell and that stimulus.  Thus learning, memory and natural tendencies converge to create specializations within complex animal societies like those of bees.

Notes:

1) Stimulus which leads to an innate response in an animal.

References:

Reappraising social insect behavior through aversive responsiveness and learning.
Behavioral Syndromes and Insect Sociality. Edith Roussel, Julie Carcaud, Jean-Christophe Sandoz, Martin Giurfa, PLoS One, 14 January 2009.

Contact information:

CNRS researcher l Martin Giurfa l T 05 61 55 67 33 l giurfa@cict.fr

CNRS press office l Laetitia Louis l T 01 44 96 51 37 l Laetitia.louis@cnrs-dir.fr


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