Many flowering plants present variable complex fragrances, which usually include different isomers of the same molecule. As fragrance is an essential cue for flower recognition by pollinators, we ask if honey bees discriminate between floral-fragrance isomers in an appetitive context. We used the olfactory conditioning of the proboscis extension response (PER), which allows training a restrained bee to an odor paired with sucrose solution. Bees were trained under an absolute (a single odorant rewarded) or a differential conditioning regime (a rewarded vs. a non-rewarded odorant) using four different pairs of isomers. One hour after training, discrimination and generalization between pairs of isomers were tested. Bees trained under absolute conditioning exhibited high generalization between isomers and discriminated only one out of four isomer pairs; after differential conditioning, they learned to differentiate between two out of four pairs of isomers but in all cases generalization responses to the non-rewarding isomer remained high. Adding an aversive taste to the non-rewarded isomer facilitated discrimination of isomers that otherwise seemed non-discriminable, but generalization remained high. Although honey bees discriminated isomers under certain conditions, they achieved the task with difficulty and tended to generalize between them, thus showing that these molecules were perceptually similar to them. We conclude that the presence of isomers within floral fragrances might not necessarily contribute to a dramatic extent to floral odor diversity.
Joao Marcelo Robazzi Bignelli Valente Aguiar, Ana Carolina Roselino, Marlies Sazima, and Martin Giurfa