Aarti Sehdev, Yunusa G. Mohammed, Cansu Tafrali, and Paul Szyszka

Animals socially interact during foraging and share information about the quality and location of food sources. The mechanisms of social information transfer during foraging have been mostly studied at the behavioral level, and its underlying neural mechanisms are largely unknown. Fruit flies have become a model for studying the neural bases of social information transfer, because they provide a large genetic toolbox to monitor and manipulate neuronal activity, and they show a rich repertoire of social behaviors. Fruit flies aggregate, they use social information for choosing a suitable mating partner and oviposition site, and they show better aversive learning when in groups. However, the effects of social interactions on associative odor-food learning have not yet been investigated. Here we present an automated learning and memory assay for walking flies that allows studying the effect of group size on social interactions and on the formation and expression of associative odor-food memories. We found that both inter-fly attraction and the duration of odor-food memory expression increase with group size. We discuss possible behavioral and neural mechanisms of this social effect on odor-food memory expression. This study opens up opportunities to investigate how social interactions during foraging are relayed in the neural circuitry of learning and memory expression.

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