The floral nectar plays a key role in the nutrition of bees and also serves as a reward in learning the characteristics of the food source (see Menzel and Müller, 1996). The concentration of the nectar varies during the season and foragers must adapt very fast to environmental changes. The selection of bees according to their individual sucrose acceptance threshold together with the free-flying appetitive conditioning protocol described here are suited well to analyse the temporal responsiveness to sucrose and the learning performance of a foraging group under more natural conditions. It further allows monitoring the behavioural adaptation of a group of foragers or a single bee to daily or seasonal changes in the environment.
A recent challenge in honey bee science is to understand the influence of viruses and parasites on the complex behaviours of the honey bee, especially with respect to colony collapse disorder. Recent studies showed that the mite V. destructor influences the flight behaviour, orientation and returning success of forager honey bees (Kralj, 2004). The lower returning rate might be a result of reduced sensory and/or neural processing capabilities involved in navigation during foraging flights. In free-flying bumble bees, a strong correlation was found between the immune response caused by parasite infections and an impaired colour leaning behaviour (Alghamdi et al., 2008). This learning protocol can be used to analyse differences in the learning and foraging behaviour of bees infected with parasites directly in the field.