What evolves in the evolution of social learning?

Theme: Biodiversity & Ecology

Main Supervisor:

Elli Leadbeater

Biological Sciences, RHUL

Project Description:

Social learning is fundamental to social life across the animal kingdom, but we still have little idea of how natural selection has shaped social learning processes – if it has even shaped them at all. In this project, we will use social bees to examine the role of simple and higher-order associations in social learning processes. Bees offer an extraordinarily tractable experimental model because it is possible to control the foraging experience of every individual in a colony, and yet retain a normal ecologically realistic social environment. Using flight arenas, we will:
a) investigate whether apparent “social learning strategies” can be explained by associative learning theory
b) investigate motivational and perceptual traits that promote social learning in bees.

The project will be based in our insect cognition lab at Royal Holloway University of London. Informal enquiries should be directed to elli.leadbeater@rhul.ac.uk.

Policy Impact of Research:

Academic impact: Social learning processes are enormously powerful in determining ecological success, and social insects provide a unique opportunity to dissect the basic mechanistic evolutionary roots of teaching, communication and culture. Conservation impact: Evidence suggests that current bee declines are linked to negative impacts of pesticide and parasites on cognitive traits. This work will provide a first step towards an understanding of how such cognitive traits impact upon fitness.


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