Multiple rewards have asymmetric effects on learning in bumblebees

Felicity Muth, Daniel R. Papaj, Anne S. Leonard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


In their natural environments, most animals must learn about multiple kinds of rewards, both within and across contexts. Despite this, the majority of research on animal learning involves a single reward type. For example, bees are an important model system for the study of cognition and its ecological consequences, but nearly all research to date on their learning concerns a single reward, nectar (carbohydrates), even though foragers often simultaneously collect pollen (protein). Features of learning under more ecologically realistic conditions involving multiple reward types are thus largely unexplored. To address this gap, we compared performance on a colour-learning task when floral surrogates offered bumblebees, Bombus impatiens, a single type of floral reward versus multiple, nutritionally distinct rewards. In one experiment, bees learned a floral association with nectar either alone or while simultaneously collecting pollen. In a reciprocal experiment, bees learned a floral association with pollen either alone or while simultaneously collecting nectar. Bees that collected pollen while learning about nectar did not suffer any detriment to learning which flower colour offered nectar. However, this was not the case for the reciprocal task: collecting nectar impaired bees’ ability to learn and remember associations between floral colour and pollen. Our findings offer new insight into how bees learn in relation to ecologically realistic rewards and how cognitive constraints may shape their behaviour under ecologically realistic foraging scenarios.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-133
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • Bombus impatiens
  • bumblebee
  • learning
  • memory
  • multitasking
  • nectar
  • pollen
  • pollination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Multiple rewards have asymmetric effects on learning in bumblebees'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this