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Behavioural access to short-term memory in bees


Memory formation proceeds in temporal phases which differ in their effectiveness in controlling subsequent behaviour and in their susceptibility to amnestic treatments1. The initial phase of memory formation, frequently termed short-term memory, is generally considered a necessary precursor to long-term memory. However, the course of short-term memory differs widely between animal species and is dependent on experimental procedure. Information may even bypass the short-term phase en route to the long-term one2,3. Experiments reported here using honey bees in a behavioural learning situation suggest that the greatest significance of short-term memory is its function as a mode of memory storage which may be altered effectively by new and contradictory information. Freely flying honey bees were presented two colour alternatives and rewarded on first one and then the other in a reversal learning paradigm. Subsequent colour preference was dependent on the interval between the two trials. Several new features of short-term memory are described. It is concluded that a single mechanism of short- to long-term memory transfer cannot account for the observed bimodal interval dependent behaviour. Two mechanisms are proposed.

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Menzel, R. Behavioural access to short-term memory in bees. Nature 281, 368–369 (1979).

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