Departmental Colloquium: Martin Giurfa (Research Center on Animal Cognition, Toulouse)
Searching for the neural bases of non-elemental learning in a miniature brain
Research Center on Animal Cognition, CNRS - Université de Toulouse, 31062 Toulouse cedex 9, France; email@example.com
Honeybees possess miniature brains but exhibit a sophisticated behavioral repertoire. Bees are considered as useful models for the study of the neural bases of simple forms of associative learning based on their capacity to learn elemental, univocal links between olfactory or visual stimuli and appetitive sucrose reinforcement. Yet, recent works have reported the existence of unsuspected cognitive capabilities in these insects, which require an explanatory level beyond that of elemental learning. I will discuss some of these findings, focusing on capabilities such as attentional modulation, non-elemental pattern discrimination, concept learning and numerosity, and discuss their mechanistic bases in an attempt to trace them down to specific circuitries and neuromodulatory processes in the insect brain. In doing this, I will highlight experimental challenges and suggest future directions for investigating the neurobiology of higher-order learning in insects, with the goal of uncovering basic neural architectures underlying cognitive processing.