David is a tenure-track assistant professor at the University of Florence. He works in the ethology and animal ecology fields, with a focus on insect societies. He is particularly interested by uncovering the evolutionary factors and related molecular mechanisms affecting the cognitive capacities and behaviors of bumblebees, honeybees and ants.
Pheromones are chemical messengers allowing the exchange of information between members of the same species. They are responsible for triggering immediate stereotyped responses to relevant stimuli and/or physiological responses in the receiver, and are thus crucial for the regulation of social interactions. In addition to their well-documented function as communication signals, some pheromones have been recently shown to play a role as “modulators” of cognitive phenomena, facilitating or inhibiting associative learning and memory formation in several vertebrates and invertebrates. We explored this possibility and studied the mechanisms of this phenomenon using as a model system two social insect species: the honeybee Apis mellifera and the ant Camponotus Aethiops. In the honeybees we specifically studied the effect of exposure to pheromones either signalling valuable resources (appetitive pheromones) or signalling noxious situations (aversive pheromones) on associative and non-associative appetitive learning and memory. In the ants we studied the effect of exposure to alarm pheromones on behavioural plasticity and decision making in the context of nestmate recognition. In both insect species we found that pheromones can modulate behaviours not necessarily directly related to the pheromonal message itself and contribute, in this way, to individual and colony level plasticity by modulating internal motivational state and learning and memory formation/retrieval performances.