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The effect of octopamine on behavioral responses of free-foraging bumblebees to a change in food source profitability


The invertebrate neuromodulator octopamine is known to be involved in bees' associative learning, enhancing the responsiveness of a bee to a conditioned stimulus. In this study, we tested the effect of octopamine on the choice behavior of free-flying bumblebees using a two-phase experiment in an array of artificial flowers. During the first phase of the experiment, the bee was allowed to collect octopamine-laden sugar water from two types of equally rewarding flowers (yellow versus blue). In the second phase, one type of flower was set to be unrewarding. The behavior of the bee (proportion of visits to the unrewarding flowers) over the two phases was fitted to a sigmoid regression model. Our results show that octopamine had no significant effect on the bees' equilibrium choice or on the overall rate of the behavioral change in response to the change in reward. Rather, octopamine significantly affected the time interval between the change in reward status and the initiation of behavioral change in the bee.

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This research has been supported by a research grant funded by the Binational Agriculture Research and Development (BARD) grant No. IS-3024-98 (to J.O.S.) and by BARD postdoctoral fellowship No. FI-286-99 (to J.C.). The experiments in this study comply with the current laws of the country in which the experiments were performed.

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Correspondence to Jonathan Cnaani.

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Cnaani, J., Schmidt, J.O. & Papaj, D.R. The effect of octopamine on behavioral responses of free-foraging bumblebees to a change in food source profitability. Naturwissenschaften 90, 185–188 (2003).

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  • Conditioned Stimulus
  • Antennal Lobe
  • Octopamine
  • Sugar Water
  • Proboscis Extension Response