Alison Mercer is a neuroethologist recognized for her work on the brain function and behavior of the honey bee, Apis mellifera. She is known particularly for her studies on dopamine signaling in the honey bee brain, its role in associative olfactory learning and its modulation by a multicomponent pheromone produced and released by queen bees. Mercer was born in Taihape, New Zealand. She graduated from the University of Otago with a Bachelor of Science degree with first class honours in Zoology in 1976, and with a PhD in Neurobiology in 1979. She was a postdoctoral fellow in neurobiology at the Free University in Berlin Germany before joining the faculty at the University of Otago in 1982. In 1992, she was appointed to an Adjunct position at the University of Arizona. Mercer served on the international scientific advisory board of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, the editorial board of the Journal of Comparative Physiology A, and as president of the International Society of Neuroethology. In 2002 she was elected fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and in 2008, received the award of Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for contributions to science.

Research Interests

Alison Mercer's research group is interested in cellular and molecular mechanisms that support learning and memory formation, and particularly, the neuromodulatory role of dopamine in the brain of the honey bee, Apis mellifera. They have examined the distribution and functional properties of honey bee dopamine receptors, and plasticity in the expression of biogenic amines and amine-receptor genes. They have shown dopamine is released in the brain in response to aversive stimuli, and that in young worker bees, dopamine signaling is modulated by a multicomponent pheromone produced and released by queen bees. Queen mandibular pheromone reduces brain dopamine levels, alters levels of dopamine receptor gene expression and activates a D2-like dopamine receptor. Impacts include inhibition of aversive learning in young worker bees and reduced stress reactivity. Arrival in New Zealand (NZ) of the varroa mite, prompted parallel studies showing that varroa's arrival was accompanied by increases in both, the diversity of honey bee viruses in NZ and viral loads in NZ bees. Bees that defend their colony against the mite by performing varroa sensitive hygiene behavior have the ability to differentiate healthy brood odors from brood odors that contain varroa-related compounds, an ability most Apis mellifera worker bees apparently lack.

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 61: Animal, Nutritional, and Applied Microbial Sciences

Secondary Section

Section 24: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience