Brain plasticity is a common phenomenon across animals and in many cases it is associated with behavioral transitions. In social insects, such as bees, wasps and ants, plasticity in a particular brain compartment involved in multisensory integration (the mushroom body) has been associated with transitions between tasks differing in cognitive demands. However, in most of these cases, transitions between tasks are age-related, requiring the experimental manipulation of the age structure in the studied colonies to distinguish age and experience-dependent effects. To better understand the interplay between brain plasticity and behavioral performance it would therefore be advantageous to study species whose division of labor is not age-dependent. Here, we focus on brain plasticity in the bumblebee Bombus occidentalis, in which division of labor is strongly affected by the individual's body size instead of age. We show that, like in vertebrates, body size strongly correlates with brain size. We also show that foraging experience, but not age, significantly correlates with the increase in the size of the mushroom body, and in particular one of its components, the medial calyx. Our results support previous findings from other social insects suggesting that the mushroom body plays a key role in experience-based decision making. We also discuss the use of bumblebees as models to analyze neural plasticity and the association between brain size and behavioral performance.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience