Welcome to the Nieh Lab

Learning, memory, and colony lifestyle

The ability of honey bees to associate multiple cues in different sensory modalities with food plays an important role in their foraging biology. We are interested in understanding how honey bees learn to associate olfactory and visual cues with rewarding cues. For our most recent papers on bee learning and memory, please see the publications page, which is frequently updated.

Harnessing bees in a way that reduces their stress and also allows easy release after the experiment is important. Below is a different approach from the Ken Tan lab. This approach usually does not require cold anesthesia and is fast and sample. This method can be adapted to a wide variety of bee species by adjusting the size of the microcentrifuge tube and straw used. It is also quite low cost and can be readily duplicated in most labs without the need to purchase special supplies or make special stands.

Previous research

We are interested in such thermal learning, which can be associated with the receipt of nectar and exhibits short term learning dynamics similar to olfactory and visual learning (Hammer TJ, Hata C, Nieh JC (2009) Thermal learning in the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Journal of Experimental Biology 212: 3928-3934).

The ability of bumble bees to associatively learn that certain flowers provide nectar rewards is essential to their role as pollinators. However, relatively little is known about the learning abilities of bumble bees relative to honey bees, which have a different life cycle (honey bees are perennial, bumble bees are annual), foraging strategies (group, not individual), and degree of social organization (highly social, not social). In conjunction with what is known about honey bee foraging, such bumble bee data would provide a rich source of comparative analyses and enrich our understanding of the roles of life cycle and sociality on the evolution of insect cognition.

We developed a new associative learning assay (encapsulation) designed specifically for bumble bees and that enhances their learning relative to the classical technique (harnesses) developed for honey bees. Using this new technique, we have shown that bumble bees possess the memory spacing effect (Toda NRT, Song J, Nieh JC (2009) Bumblebees exhibit the memory spacing effect. Naturwissenschaften 96: 1185-1191). Future studies will use encapsulation to determine if learning and memory abilities change during the life cycle of individual worker bumble bees and over the colony life cycle.

A harnessed honey bee (Apis mellifera in the video below) will extend her proboscis (similar to a tongue) if her antenna contacts a sufficiently sweet sugar solution. This is a reflexive response. After testing, the bee is painted on her thorax and then released from the harness to return to the nest

Learn more about the study of Behavioral Ecology at UCSD.

References

Please note: The copyright of these articles (with the exception of Open Access articles) is with their respective publishers. By downloading an article, you agree to limit the use of the pdf file to printing of single copies for personal research and study. You may not modify the files in any way, or to use them for commercial purposes.

Hammer TJ, Hata C, Nieh JC (2009) Thermal learning in the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Journal of Experimental Biology 212: 3928-3934

Toda NRT, Song J, Nieh JC (2009) Bumblebees exhibit the memory spacing effect. Naturwissenschaften 96: 1185-1191