Honeybees, Apis mellifera, gradually increase their rate of forage uptake as they gain foraging experience. This increase in foraging performance has been proposed to occur as a result of learning; however, factors affecting flight ability such as changes in physiological components of flight metabolism could also contribute to this pattern.
Thus, the purpose of this study was to assess the contribution of physiological changes to the increase in honeybee foraging performance. We investigated aspects of honeybee flight muscle biochemistry throughout the adult life, from non-foraging hive bees, through young and mature foragers, to old foragers near the end of their lifespan. Two-dimensional gel proteomic analysis on honeybee thorax muscle revealed an increase in several proteins from hive bees to mature foragers including troponin T 10a, aldolase and superoxide dismutase. By contrast, the activities (Vmax)of enzymes involved in aerobic performance, phosphofructokinase, hexokinase,pyruvate kinase and cytochrome c oxidase, did not increase in the flight muscles of hive bees, young foragers, mature foragers and old foragers. However, citrate synthase activity was found to increase with foraging experience. Hence, our results suggest plasticity in both structural and metabolic components of flight muscles with foraging experience.