With nearly 200 square metres of useable flight space, this is the world’s largest indoor, climate-controlled insect flight-testing facility and is playing a key role in helping QBI scientists understand how relatively simple brains are capable of complex function.

While the bee brain is only about the size of a sesame seed, it has many of the characteristic of the human brain, including complex behaviours such as memory and learning, which gives scientists a useful reductionist model for research. This facility offers a good research model because the bees can be studied in a natural setting that is easily accessible to scientists. In addition, because bees are relatively short-lived (about one month), researchers can study several generations a year.

The Facility is designed to accommodate a range of studies including:

  • Visual studies, to understand how visual information is used to guide flight and facilitate navigation.
  • Cognitive studies, in which honeybees are presented with various visual images of high complexity and are trained to discriminate between them. This allows researchers to investigate aspects of relational learning, concept learning and complex image processing in bees.
  • Olfactory studies, whereby free-flying honeybees are trained to attend differently scented feeders simulating a natural field of flowers. Researchers use these studies to investigate aspects of olfactory plasticity and how changing scent experience modifies the olfactory system of honeybees.
  • Aggression studies, in which researchers investigate the modulatory effect of specific scents on honeybee aggressive behavior. Custom-designed aggression tests with groups of bees are carried out inside the bee house under controlled conditions.
  • Molecular studies, undertaken using the bee house incubator, allows researchers to breed bees that are exactly the same age. Researchers mark these bees with paint right after they emerge and subject them to different treatments, such as exposure to scents, isolation, darkness and other conditions. They then return them to natural hives outside the bee house. From these hives, researchers subsequently collect bees of specific ages and investigate such things as how the treatments have affected their learning and memory abilities, and their brain development on a molecular level.

For further information about the research being conducted in this facility please contact QBI facilities.