Fast learning in free-foraging bumble bees is negatively correlated with lifetime resource collection
OPEN Scientific reports | 31 Mar 2017
LJ Evans, KE Smith and NE Raine
Despite widespread interest in the potential adaptive value of individual differences in cognition, few studies have attempted to address the question of how variation in learning and memory impacts their performance in natural environments. Using a novel split-colony experimental design we evaluated visual learning performance of foraging naïve bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) in an ecologically relevant associative learning task under controlled laboratory conditions, before monitoring the lifetime foraging performance of the same individual bees in the field. We found appreciable variation among the 85 workers tested in both their learning and foraging performance, which was not predicted by colony membership. However, rather than finding that foragers benefited from enhanced learning performance, we found that fast and slow learners collected food at comparable rates and completed a similar number of foraging bouts per day in the field. Furthermore, bees with better learning abilities foraged for fewer days; suggesting a cost of enhanced learning performance in the wild. As a result, slower learning individuals collected more resources for their colony over the course of their foraging career. These results demonstrate that enhanced cognitive traits are not necessarily beneficial to the foraging performance of individuals or colonies in all environments.
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