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J R Soc Interface. 2013 Jul 31;10(87):20130533. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2013.0533. Print 2013 Oct 6.

Do small swarms have an advantage when house hunting? The effect of swarm size on nest-site selection by Apis mellifera.

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Behaviour and Genetics of Social Insects Laboratory, School of Biological Sciences, and Centre for Mathematical Biology, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia.


Reproductive swarms of honeybees are faced with the problem of finding a good site to establish a new colony. We examined the potential effects of swarm size on the quality of nest-site choice through a combination of modelling and field experiments. We used an individual-based model to examine the effects of swarm size on decision accuracy under the assumption that the number of bees actively involved in the decision-making process (scouts) is an increasing function of swarm size. We found that the ability of a swarm to choose the best of two nest sites decreases as swarm size increases when there is some time-lag between discovering the sites, consistent with Janson & Beekman (Janson & Beekman 2007 Proceedings of European Conference on Complex Systems, pp. 204-211.). However, when simulated swarms were faced with a realistic problem of choosing between many nest sites discoverable at all times, larger swarms were more accurate in their decisions than smaller swarms owing to their ability to discover nest sites more rapidly. Our experimental fieldwork showed that large swarms invest a larger number of scouts into the decision-making process than smaller swarms. Preliminary analysis of waggle dances from experimental swarms also suggested that large swarms could indeed discover and advertise nest sites at a faster rate than small swarms.


Apis mellifera; decision-making; honeybees; individual-based model; swarming

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