Learning and cognition

How does the ability to learn, either individually or by using social information, affect individual- and group-level flexibility and robustness? Individual learning is essential in generalist foragers such as bumble bees (Muth et al. 2015), and even for apparently basic tasks such as landing on flat surfaces (Rivera and Dornhaus in prep-b). Bees may flexibly decide which sources of information to use, such as personal vs. social information (Dunlap et al. submitted), or visual vs. olfactory information (Kaczorowski et al. 2012), depending on their reliability. This is particularly relevant because it affects plant-pollinator interactions and the need for flowers to use complex signals (Leonard et al. 2011a; Leonard et al. 2011b; Kaczorowski et al. 2012; Leonard et al. 2013). Surprisingly, learning social information can lead to inflexibility, precisely because groups get locked into a decision that individuals relying on social information cannot get out of (Lanan et al. 2012; Donaldson-Matasci and Dornhaus 2014); since larger groups are more likely to be affected, individuals in larger ant colonies may therefore change their behavior to make decisions more independently (Dornhaus and Franks 2006). Individual insects may also be flexible in the decision-making process itself, by ‘choosing’ to collect more or less information, and thus prioritizing speed or accuracy of decisions (Chittka et al. 2003; Franks et al. 2003; Marshall et al. 2006; Kulahci et al. 2008; Papaj et al. in prep).