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Biol Lett. 2012 Feb 23;8(1):13-6. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0661. Epub 2011 Aug 17.

Bees do not use nearest-neighbour rules for optimization of multi-location routes.

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  • 1Biological and Experimental Psychology Group, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK.


Animals collecting patchily distributed resources are faced with complex multi-location routing problems. Rather than comparing all possible routes, they often find reasonably short solutions by simply moving to the nearest unvisited resources when foraging. Here, we report the travel optimization performance of bumble-bees (Bombus terrestris) foraging in a flight cage containing six artificial flowers arranged such that movements between nearest-neighbour locations would lead to a long suboptimal route. After extensive training (80 foraging bouts and at least 640 flower visits), bees reduced their flight distances and prioritized shortest possible routes, while almost never following nearest-neighbour solutions. We discuss possible strategies used during the establishment of stable multi-location routes (or traplines), and how these could allow bees and other animals to solve complex routing problems through experience, without necessarily requiring a sophisticated cognitive representation of space.

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