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Foraging in honeybees--when does it pay to dance?

By Madeleine Beekman and Jie Bin Lew

Abstract

Honeybees are unique in that they are the only social insects that are known to recruit nest mates using the waggle dance. This waggle dance is used by successful foragers to convey information about both the direction and distance to food sources. Nest mates can use this spatial information, increasing their chances of locating the food source. But how effective is the bees' dance communication? Previous work has shown that dancing does not benefit a honeybee colony under all foraging conditions and that the benefits of dancing are small. We used an individual-based simulation model to investigate under which foraging conditions it pays to dance. We compared the net nectar intake of 3 types of colonies: 1) colonies that use dance communication; 2) colonies that did dance but could not use the dance's spatial information; and 3) colonies that did not dance. Our results show that dancing is beneficial when the probability of independent discovery of food sources is low. Low independent discovery rates occur when patches are very small or very far away. Under these conditions, dancing is beneficial as only a single individual needs to find a patch for the whole colony to benefit. The main benefit of the honeybee's dance communication, however, seems to be that it enables the colony to forage at the most profitable patches only, ignoring forage patches that are of low quality. Thus, dancing allows the colony to rapidly exploit high-quality patches, thereby preventing both intra- and interspecific competitors from using that same patch. Copyright 2008, Oxford University Press.

DOI identifier: 10.1093/beheco
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