Just because you’re the smartest bee in the hive, doesnt mean youll be any good at working. In fact, when it comes to collecting pollen, it often pays to be dumb.
New research by the Royal Holloway in London and the University of Guelph in Canada looked at howbumblebees’ learning ability paired up withtheir foraging performance and contribution to the colony. The study is published in Scientific Reports.
Their results showed that slow-learning bumblebees foraged for considerably longer than the bees that were able to learn quickly duringassociation-building tasks. There was also no difference in the rates of foraging between the two groups of bees, meaning the smart ones just foragedfor less time and were worse at foraging overall.
“This study provides the first evidence of a learning-associated cost in the wild,” Dr Lisa Evans, Plant & Food Research scientist at Royal Holloway, said in astatement.“Our results are surprising, because we typically associate enhanced learning performance and cognitive ability with improved fitness, because it is considered beneficial to the survival of an individual or group.
The researchers looked at 85 bees from five different colonies and subjected them to a visual learning performance exam that tested how well the bees learned whichcolored flowers contained more pollen than others. Radio frequency identification tagging technology was used to track how quickly the bees made the association and how much pollen they collected in the wild.
When it came to adding up how much the bees had the collected, the slower bees were considerablybetter at collecting than the smart bees.This stands in opposition to what we tend to assumeabout bees, as we typicallythink that learning is particularly important to their success.
A previous study in 2008produced opposite results, instead finding thatfast-learning bees performed better and weremore likely to keep track of which flowers held the most rewards. However, this new study disputes the validity of thoseresults,as the current study followed the foraging performance of bees whose learning had previously been assessed, while the older study used different individuals. This, the current team say, could have swayed the results as a bumblebee’sperformance can vary depending on acolony’s developmental stage and aworker’s reproductive status.
The researchers posit a possible explanation for ther own findings:“Neural tissue is metabolically expensive to produce and maintain,” Dr Evans adds. “Foraging is energy demanding, but so is learning. This may explain the significantly shorter foraging lifespan of fast-learning bumblebees.”