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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: IMPROVE NUTRITION FOR HONEY BEE COLONIES TO STIMULATE POPULATION GROWTH, INCREASE QUEEN QUALITY, AND REDUCE THE IMPACT OF VARROA MITES

Location: Honey Bee Research

Title: Bigger is better: honey bee colonies as distributed information-gathering systems

Authors
item Donaldson-Matasci, Matina -
item Degrandi-Hoffman, Gloria
item Dornhaus, Anna -

Submitted to: Journal of Animal Behavior
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: December 19, 2012
Publication Date: March 3, 2013
Repository URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/57110
Citation: Donaldson-Matasci, M., Hoffman, G.D., Dornhaus, A. 2013. Bigger is better: honey bee colonies as distributed information-gathering systems. Journal of Animal Behavior. 85(3), 585-592.

Interpretive Summary: Honey bees communicate the location of food sources to their nestmates using a dance language. The dance language allows colonies to selectively allocate foragers among available resources according to their quality. Large colonies send out many more scout bees than smaller colonies and collect much more information that they must share with their foraging population. Thus, large colonies should benefit more from the dance language than smaller colonies. This is because the dances might allow scouts in large colonies to recruit more foragers to high value resources and do it more quickly than in smaller colonies. To test this, we established large and small colonies and divided each group into colonies that could communicate using the dance language and those that could not. We found that large colony size and dance communication work together to improve foraging performance. Large colonies with communication had earlier peaks in foraging activity than both smaller colonies and large colonies that could not communicate with the dance language. Our results suggest that by using the dance language, large colonies find resources and recruit foragers more quickly than small colonies. This is due to more effective information-gathering from parallel searching by scouts and then efficient dissemination of the information to the foraging population through the dance language.

Technical Abstract: In collectively foraging groups, communication about food resources can play an important role in the organization of the group’s activity. For example, the honey bee waggle dance allows colonies to selectively allocate foragers among different floral resources according to their quality. Because larger groups can potentially collect more information, they might benefit more from communication because it allows them to integrate and use that information to coordinate forager activity. Large groups might also benefit more from communication because it allows them to dominate high-value resources by recruiting large numbers of foragers. We show that large colonies of honey bees do benefit more from the location information in the dance than small colonies. In fact, large colony size and dance communication work together to improve foraging performance; the estimated net gain per foraging trip is not improved by large size alone, or by communication alone. We also show that large colonies with communication have the earliest peaks in foraging activity, but not the highest ones. This suggests they may find and recruit to resources more quickly, but not more heavily. The advantage of large colonies is thus likely a result of more effective information-gathering due to massive parallel search rather than increased competitive ability due to heavy recruitment.

Last Modified: 4/17/2014
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