Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 343–354

Social foraging by honeybees: how colonies allocate foragers among patches of flowers

  • Thomas D. Seeley

DOI: 10.1007/BF00295707

Cite this article as:
Seeley, T.D. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1986) 19: 343. doi:10.1007/BF00295707


To understand how a colony of honeybees keeps its forager force focussed on rich sources of food, and analysis was made of how the individual foragers within a colony decide to abandon or continue working (and perhaps even recruit to) patches of flowers. A nectar forager grades her behavior toward a patch in response to both the nectar intake rate of her colony and the quality of her patch. This results in the threshold in patch quality for acceptance of a patch being higher when the colonial intake rate of nectar is high than when it is low. Thus colonies can adjust their patch selectivity so that they focus on rich sources when forage is abundant, but spread their workers among a wider range of sources when forage is scarce. Foragers assess their colony's rate of nectar intake while in the nest, unloading nectar to receiver bees. The ease of unloading varies inversely with the colonial intake rate of nectar. Foragers assess patch quality while in the field, collecting nectar. By grading their behavior steeply in relation to such patch variables as distance from the nest and nectar sweetness, foragers give their colony high sensitivity to differences in profitability among patches. When a patch's quality declines, its foragers reduce their rate of visits to the patch. This diminishes the flow of nectar from the poor patch which in turn stimulates recruitment to rich patches. Thus a colony can swiftly redistribute its forager force following changes in the spatial distribution of rich food sources. The fundamental currency of nectar patch quality is not net rate of energy intake, (Gain-Cost)/Time, but may be net energy efficiency, (Gain-Cost)/Cost.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas D. Seeley
    • 1
  1. 1.Biology DepartmentYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Section of Neurobiology and BehaviorCornell UniversityIthacaUSA