Feeding specialization and longer generation time are associated with relatively larger brains in bees.

Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Published: 2020-09-30

DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2020.0762

Affiliations: 11

Authors: 10

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Research Highlight

Big-brained bees have pickier palate

© Yevhen Borysov/Getty

© Yevhen Borysov/Getty

Bee species with specialist tastes have the biggest brains.

The brain sizes of most animals are determined by well-studied social and ecological pressures, but little is known about what shapes the intellectual organ of insects, despite evidence of their advanced cognitive abilities.

A team that included researchers from the Spanish National Research Council measured the brains of 385 bees from 93 different species. They then compared them with data on each species’ foraging behaviour, reproductive frequency and sociality (whether they live in colonies or fly solo).

After they adjusted for body size, the researchers found that bees that forage from one flower family have bigger brains — perhaps due to the extra challenge of finding their favourite food. The same was true for species that go through just one generation each year. Surprisingly, sociality had no effect.

The heightened importance of ecological pressures in bee brain size sheds new light on the evolution of insect brains.

Supported content

  1. Proc. R. Soc. B 287, 20200762 (2020). doi: 10.1098/rspb.2020.0762
Institutions Share
Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), Spain 0.20
Doñana Biological Station (EBD), CSIC, Spain 0.20
Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL), United States of America (USA) 0.10
The University of Scranton, United States of America (USA) 0.10
University of Manitoba, Canada 0.10
non-affiliated author contributions, Netherlands 0.10
Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications (CREAF), Spain 0.10
University of Gothenburg (GU), Sweden 0.07
UCL, United Kingdom (UK) 0.03