Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 11, pp 1789–1796 | Cite as

The dynamics of social learning in an insect model, the bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)

  • Ellouise LeadbeaterEmail author
  • Lars Chittka
Original Paper


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.


Bumblebee foraging Social learning Local enhancement 



We thank Rachel Sitts for help with data collection, Rob Knell for statistical advice, and two anonymous referees for comments on the manuscript. All experiments comply with current UK legislation.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological and Chemical SciencesQueen Mary University of LondonLondonUK

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