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J Exp Biol. 2008 Dec;211(Pt 23):3691-7. doi: 10.1242/jeb.021071.

Sensory coding of nest-site value in honeybee swarms.

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Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


This study investigates the first stage of the decision-making process of a honeybee swarm as it chooses a nest site: how a scout bee codes the value of a potential nest site in the waggle dances she produces to represent this site. We presented honeybee swarms with a two-alternative choice between a high-value site and a medium-value site and recorded the behavior of individually identifiable scout bees as they reported on these two alternatives. We found that bees performed equally lengthy inspections at the two sites, but that, on the swarm cluster, they performed more dance circuits per bee for the high-value site. We also found that there was much individual-level noise in the coding of site value, but that there were clear population-level differences in total dance circuits produced for the two sites. The first bee to find a site had a high probability of reporting the site with a waggle dance, regardless of its value. This discoverer-should-dance phenomenon may help ensure that a swarm gives attention to all discovered sites. There was rapid decay in the dance response; the number of dance circuits produced by a bee after visiting a site decreased linearly over sequential visits, and eventually each bee ceased visiting her site. This decay, or ;leakage', in the accumulation of bees at a site improves a swarm's decision-making ability by helping a swarm avoid making fast-decision errors.

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