Exposure to cold: Aversive Pavlovian conditioning in individual Drosophila melanogaster

Laura L. Phelan, Zachary A. Rodd, Helmut V.B. Hirsch, Robert A. Rosellini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


Temperature changes can be especially threatening for ectotherms, such as Drosophila melanogaster (Diptera: Drosophilidea Meigen, 1830), and in this study we tested whether flies can associate olfactory stimuli with a sudden drop in temperature. Such Pavlovian conditioning would allow them to make appropriate behavioural and/or physiological responses in the future. We found that exposing individual flies to one of two odours in the presence of a sudden drop in temperature resulted in Pavlovian conditioning with flies subsequently avoiding the odour paired with cold. The characteristics of Pavlovian conditioning in flies were comparable to those observed for mammalian species. Specifically, the strength of conditioning increased with increasing intensity of the cold and decreased as the time interval between the olfactory stimulus (CS) and cold (US) was lengthened. Finally, the order in which CS and US were presented affected the strength of conditioning. Learning was observed when the CS preceded US and when the US immediately preceded the CS, but not when the CS preceded the US by 30 s or more. These results provide further evidence for learning in individual flies, and confirm that Pavlovian conditioning is a general mechanism used by organisms to obtain information about their environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-224
Number of pages6
JournalPhysiological Entomology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 14 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Associative learning
  • Behavioural ecology
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Learning in individuals
  • Pavlovian conditioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science

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