WELLINGTON, March 30 (Xinhua) -- Being smarter in the wild doesn't necessarily make you a better provider - at least for bumblebees, New Zealand researchers said Thursday.
Their study with researchers in Britain and Canada found fast-learning bumblebees had a much shorter foraging lifespan than their slow-learning co-workers.
They also found that the fast-learning bumblebees collected food at rates comparable to the less cognitively able in the colony and completed a similar number of foraging bouts per day, said scientists at the government's Plant and Food Research institute.
"Our results are surprising, because we typically associate enhanced learning performance and cognitive ability with improved fitness, because it is considered beneficial to the survival of an individual or group," Plant and Food Research scientist Dr Lisa Evans said.
"This study provides the first evidence of a learning-associated cost in the wild."
The researchers evaluated the visual learning performance of 85 individual foraging bumblebees across five colonies, in both lab tests and in the wild using radio frequency identification tagging technology.
Observers also monitored the quantity of nectar and pollen brought back to the nests.
The results revealed that slower learning bumblebees collected more resources for the colony over the course of their foraging career.
The researchers believed the shorter foraging careers of the fast-learning bumblebees might be due to costs associated with their higher cognitive functioning.
"Neural tissue is metabolically expensive to produce and maintain. Foraging is energy demanding, but so is learning. This may explain the significantly shorter foraging lifespan of fast-learning bumble bees," said Evans.
The findings could help support research into the conservation of pollinators that assisted with the production of commercial crops.
Determining how pollinators adapted to their environment could provide insights into aspects that were important for colony success, which contributed to habitat and pollinator conservation.