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Common mechanisms in proboscis extension conditioning and visual learning revealed by genetic selection in honeybees (Apis mellifera capensis)

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Four strains of the honeybee (Apis mellifera capensis), which were selected for high (N=2) or low (N=2) performance levels in classic conditioning of olfactory and mechanosensory stimuli, were examined in two instrumental visual learning tasks. Bees were trained to coloured cardboards either at the hive entrance or at the feeding station. Positive correlations were detected between olfactory/mechanosensory conditioning and visual learning. Good and poor learners from strains selected for olfactory conditioning differed significantly in their visual learning values. These strain differences reflect genetic differences in a common learning system rather than task specific differences in sensory, motor or motivational components. Parameters that were influenced by activity of the colony (duration of stay at the feeding place, time between visits) also differed among selected strains. These effects were not due to selection. Instead, they reflect a specific genetic background produced in each strain independently of selection. The results indicate that associative learning has a genetic basis which is independent of the sensory stimuli associated with reward, the learning procedure (classical conditioning or instrumental learning) or the motor patterns used to execute the learned behavior (proboscis extension, control for flight behavior, open field orientation).

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US :

unconditioned stimulus

CS :

conditioned stimulus


proboscis extension reflex

UR :

unconditioned response

CR :

conditioned response


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Correspondence to Ch. Brandes or R. Menzel.

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Brandes, C., Menzel, R. Common mechanisms in proboscis extension conditioning and visual learning revealed by genetic selection in honeybees (Apis mellifera capensis). J Comp Physiol A 166, 545–552 (1990).

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Key words

  • Honeybees
  • Learning
  • Classical conditioning
  • Selection
  • Genetics