Journal of Experimental Biology
The Company of Biologists Ltd.
In social insects, changes in behavior are often accompanied by structural changes in the brain. This neuroplasticity may come with experience (experience-dependent) or age (experience-expectant). Yet, the evolutionary relationship between neuroplasticity and sociality is unclear, because we know little about neuroplasticity in the solitary relatives of social species. We used confocal microscopy to measure brain changes in response to age and experience in a solitary halictid bee (Nomia melanderi). First, we compared the volume of individual brain regions among newly emerged females, laboratory females deprived of reproductive and foraging experience, and free-flying, nesting females. Experience, but not age, led to significant expansion of the mushroom bodies – higher-order processing centers associated with learning and memory. Next, we investigated how social experience influences neuroplasticity by comparing the brains of females kept in the laboratory either alone or paired with another female. Paired females had significantly larger olfactory regions of the mushroom bodies. Together, these experimental results indicate that experience-dependent neuroplasticity is common to both solitary and social taxa, whereas experience-expectant neuroplasticity may be an adaptation to life in a social colony. Further, neuroplasticity in response to social chemical signals may have facilitated the evolution of sociality.
Hagadorn, M.A., M.M Johnson, A.R. Smith, M.A. Seid, and K.M Kapheim. 2021. Experience, but not age, is associated with volumetric mushroom body expansion in solitary alkali bees. Journal of Experimental Biology, 224. doi:10.1242/jeb.238899
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