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Publication - Dr Heather Whitney

    Cross-modal transfer in visual and nonvisual cues in bumblebees


    Harrap, M, Lawson, D, Whitney, H & Rands, S, 2019, ‘Cross-modal transfer in visual and nonvisual cues in bumblebees’. Journal of Comparative Physiology A.


    Bumblebees Bombus terrestris are good at learning to distinguish between patterned flowers. They can differentiate between flowers that differ only in their patterning of scent, surface texture, temperature, or electrostatic charge, in addition to visual patterns. As recently shown, bumblebees trained to discriminate between nonvisual scent patterns can transfer this learning to visually patterned flowers that show similar spatial patterning to the learnt scent patterns. Bumblebees can, therefore, transfer learnt patterns between different sensory modalities, without needing to relearn them. We used differential conditioning techniques to explore whether cross-modal transfer of learnt patterns also occurred between visual and temperature patterns. Bumblebees that successfully learnt to distinguish rewarding and unrewarding temperature patterns did not show any preferences for the corresponding unlearnt visual pattern. Similarly, bumblebees that learnt visual patterns did not transfer these to temperature patterns, suggesting that they are unable to transfer learning of temperature and visual patterns. We discuss how cross-modality pattern learning may be limited to modalities that have potentially strong neurological links, such as the previously demonstrated transfer between scent and visual patterns.

    Full details in the University publications repository