The dynamics of social learning in an insect model, the bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)
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- Leadbeater, E. & Chittka, L. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2007) 61: 1789. doi:10.1007/s00265-007-0412-4
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Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) are attracted to those particular inflorescences where other bees are already foraging, a process known as local enhancement. Here, we use a quantitative analysis of learning in a foraging task to illustrate that this attraction can lead bees to learn more quickly which flower species are rewarding if they forage in the company of experienced conspecifics. This effect can also be elicited by model bees, rather than live demonstrators. We also show that local enhancement in bumblebees most likely reflects a general attraction to conspecifics that is not limited to a foraging context. Based on the widespread occurrence of both local enhancement and associative learning in the invertebrates, we suggest that social influences on learning in this group may be more common than the current literature would suggest and that invertebrates may provide a useful model for understanding how learning processes based on social information evolve.