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Title: Causes and consequences of variation in learning performance in the bumblebee (Bombus terrestris)
Author: Smith, Karen Elizabeth
ISNI:       0000 0004 8498 7665
Awarding Body: Royal Holloway, University of London
Current Institution: Royal Holloway, University of London
Date of Award: 2016
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Animal cognition has been studied for decades, yet there are still many unanswered questions about how and why such variation in cognitive abilities exists, within and among species. The reasons for variation in cognitive abilities may have been ignored as just 'noise' in the past. However, there has been recent interest in quantifying the costs and benefits associated with variation in cognitive ability, to make inferences about its adaptive significance. In this thesis I add to this area of research, by examining a number of potential explanations for variation in learning ability, observed both within and among colonies, and what the ultimate consequences of such variation might be for the bumblebee Bombus terrestris. I start by comparing variation in individual performance in an olfactory and visual learning task (chapter 2), finding that there is neither a trade-off nor correlation in learning ability across the two tasks. I further explored individual variation within colonies in chapter 3, by assessing whether there is an association between foraging preferences and olfactory learning. In chapter 4, I investigated the fitness consequences of variation in visual and olfactory learning performance in a field setting, finding that better learning ability was not adaptive in the environment tested, indicating it may come with costs. Finally in chapter 5, I extended the scope of my thesis, by exploring the impacts of a negative anthropogenic factor (neonicotinoid pesticide use) found in natural environments, on learning performance and memory formation. My work shows the clear utility of proboscis extension reflex conditioning as a paradigm for learning and memory studies using bumblebees. Taken together, my findings give insight into the potential adaptive significance of variation in learning performance, the costs it may come with and how stress (via pesticide exposure) can affect the allocation of resources in cognitive abilities.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available