Associate Professor Andrew Barron
Department of Biological Sciences Macquarie University
Honey bees are claimed to be capable of a spectacular array of cognitive tasks that have rede ned expectations of the cognitive capacities of insects. These include: metacognition, abstract concept learning and even understanding the concept of zero. Simply labelling of the kinds of things bees can do, however, tells us very little about how the bee mind works. Understanding how bees can achieve these cognitive feats
needs a different approach to that typically used in comparative neuroscience. Here I present neural models derived from the known structures of the bee brain to propose how a bee might be able to solve abstract concept learning and metacognitive tasks. I argue that modelling of the circuits capable of supporting different cognitive capacities advances experimental neuroscience by providing plausible mechanisms for cognitive processes, and provides objective criteria for comparing the cognitive capacities of animal minds.
I am an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, and Deputy Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. I obtained my PhD from Cambridge University in 1999 on learning and memory in Drosophila, and completed post-docs at the University of Sydney, University of Illinois and ANU before taking up my current position at Macquarie University. I am a neuroethologist, which is a discipline of neuroscience studying the neural mechanisms of natural animal behaviour. Most of my research focuses on insects, especially honey bees. My research examines fundamental mechanisms
of cognition, social behaviour and even consciousness through studies of the remarkable insect brain. I also conduct research to improve honey bee health and welfare. I am studying how bees and bee colonies are impacted by pesticide and disease stressors, and how we might best intervene to help colonies under stress.