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Even bees argue over where to get dinner

August 6, 2020

How latent inhibition affects the personality of the hive and decides bee dining choices

It’s Friday night and you’re going out to dinner with your grandparents. You’re going to Sizzler, because they go there … every … single … Friday. It’s not a question.

But on Saturday night, you head out with your friend who tries every new and funky place in town. Who knows what it’s going to be this weekend? 

There’s a learning behavior called latent inhibition. It screens out irrelevant stimuli, allowing the mind to focus on the most pressing and practical issues. If you’ve ignored emails to get a report in on deadline, you’re familiar with it.

Bees with high latent inhibition forage at the same trusted spots, day in and day out. Low latent inhibition bees learn new and familiar food locations equally well.

Interactions between the two types drive the hunt for food in honeybee colonies, according to a new study published by Arizona State University postdoctoral researcher Chelsea Cook of the School of Life Sciences.

This can be a boon for collectives like honeybees, who need to constantly balance exploration for new food sources with tapping known sources in a fluid food landscape. 

But there’s a mysterious question lurking beneath the discovery. Who wins out?

High latent inhibition bees are great at focusing in on preferred food locations. They want to go to Sizzler. Period.

“In the lab, we can test this behavior,” said Cook, the lead author of the paper“Individual Learning Phenotypes Drive Collective Behavior” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.. “We familiarize them to an odor that's not associated with any important information. Those high LI bees cannot learn that later. They're like, ‘I've already learned that. This is unimportant.’”

Dr. Chelsea Cook studying bees at ASU

Chelsea Cook at the ASU Bee Lab. Photo by Charlie Leight

Low latent inhibition bees are generalists and learners. They’re open to new experiences. They learn that something that was unimportant before is important now.

“They’re like, ‘Oh, cool. This was unimportant earlier. Totally fine. It's important now I'll learn it.’ So they're open to experiences. … We see this in the field too, when we put those low LI bees out there, they're visiting all the feeders there. They don't care which one was out there first, which one came later, they'll visit everything. Whereas those high LI bees, they learned that that first feeder was important and it gave them food. ‘This has all the info. We don't care about the other ones. We're just going to focus in on the one that's there and giving us food.’”

Here’s the rub: When bees return to the hive after foraging, they do what’s called a waggle dance. It conveys a lot of information to the rest of the hive — how far away food is, what direction it’s in, and so on.

High latent inhibition bees do a more enthusiastic waggle dance when they come back to the hive. Sort of like when you and your friends are trying to pick a place to eat, there’s always one person who’s vehement about going to one place.

“That's the high LI bees, right?” Cook said. “They're like, no, this is the place, it's giving us food. So they come back and they're more enthusiastic. The feeders that those bees are visiting are exactly the same, right? So it's just the translation. It's what those bees are paying attention to and how those bees are valuing that information themselves to come back to the group and actually communicate that information.”

What happens in the bee world in a mixed colony? Who wins out? The low latent inhibition bees end up behaving like high latent inhibition bees. They give up. They go to Sizzler and quit trying new places.

“Why do they make that switch now?” Cook said. “Why are they only going to the familiar feeder and paying more attention to that familiar feeder? There's this critical tipping point of what the composition of that population is. So if you have one high LI friend, maybe they're not going to convince your grandparents to go somewhere else. But if there is enough, if there's a critical mass, they will just get you to go to the old, familiar, and not try anything new. And that's exactly what those high LI bees are doing. There was the critical mass of the 50% that are forcing those lower LI bees with their waggle dance.”

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News


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ASU partners to launch Virtual Teacher Training Institute to support Arizona teachers and students

August 6, 2020

The institute is a collaboration with Gov. Doug Ducey, the Arizona Department of Education and Helios Education Foundation

A new, $7.5 million partnership will help the state’s K–12 teachers deliver quality instruction and support for online and blended learning environments as Arizona grapples with the challenges of starting a school year during a pandemic.  

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, Helios Education Foundation and Arizona State University have announced a collaboration to provide training and professional development for every teacher in Arizona. With financial support from the governor’s office, the Arizona Department of Education and Helios, ASU Prep Digital’s Arizona Virtual Teacher Institute will provide both group and personal training to help Arizona teachers succeed in delivering online instruction.

Free training programs for schools and teachers begin Aug. 11 with a three-day program, “Thriving as a Digital Teacher.” Topics are relevant to all digital learning tools and include best practices in online instruction, Web 2.0 tools, setting up a virtual instruction plan, pace charts, monitoring student progress, teaching time and stress management and more. Synchronous and asynchronous sessions will be available through the school year.

“Arizona teachers have demonstrated dedication and creativity in remaining present in the lives of their students through distance learning,” Ducey said. “With funding from the state and both the financial support and expertise of the Helios Education Foundation, we are putting one of the state’s strongest assets during this pandemic, Arizona State University, to work to support teachers in elementary schools and high schools from across the state.”

The training will get teachers up and running quickly and build their expertise incrementally. After-school sessions, available Monday through Thursday, along with a Saturday morning session, provide tremendous flexibility. Leadership tracks will support school and district leaders in managing instructional programs and supporting teachers at a distance. Professional Learning Communities, facilitated by ASU Prep Digital, offer an avenue for educators to work through specific challenges throughout the year.

“At present, it is unlikely that any Arizona school community will be in a position to begin the new school year in the traditional, in-person, on-campus setting,” Hoffman said. “As schools look to begin the fall semester in a distance learning mode, they face different challenges. We want to give all schools and teachers access to the tools and training that they need. ASU Prep Digital already excels in this work and this new partnership will expand it.”

ASU Prep Digital, already in partnership with more than 150 schools across Arizona, offers a flexible menu of training options to maximize opportunities to participate in multiple sessions each month. School leadership can specify requirements for their staff, allow teachers to make their own choices, request special sessions for their school or offer a combination of required versus “choice” sessions. These trainings were thoughtfully designed to increase confidence in every teacher, regardless of digital competency level, as they continue to personalize education and raise academic achievement for every student — even with the uncertain school environment variables that will define the upcoming school year. 

“We have always known that the quality of any ed-tech implementation depends on resourcing and preparing great teachers and leaders to steer the initiative effectively,” said Amy McGrath, chief operating officer of ASU Prep Digital. “This training stems from years of work with districts across the globe in a wide variety of implementations. Over the years, we have identified common practices and principles around effective online and blended environments. We are eager to share what we’ve learned but also to welcome new teacher and leader insights into this growing pool of knowledge for future generations.”

Ducey and Hoffman shared the sentiment that the partnership would not have occurred without the engagement of the Helios Education Foundation, a philanthropic organization best known for its work in creating opportunities for success in postsecondary education. 

“Arizona teachers are facing an unprecedented challenge but their determination, resilience and commitment to their students is extraordinary,”  said Vince Roig, founding chairman of Helios Education Foundation. “This institute will help equip teachers to provide instruction in a virtual environment while also ensuring all students — including those in rural and underserved communities — have access to high-quality educational opportunities.”

Thanks to the Helios investment and the state funding, training through the Arizona Virtual Teacher Institute will be provided at no cost to Arizona’s K–12 public schools and teachers.

More information about ASU Prep Digital’s Arizona Virtual Teacher Institute.

Top photo by iStock/Getty Images

Assistant vice president , Media Relations and Strategic Communications