, Volume 55, Issue 4, pp 395-401
Date: 22 Nov 2003

Why do honey bees dance?

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The honey bee dance language, used to recruit nestmates to food sources, is regarded by many as one of the most intriguing communication systems in animals. What were the ecological circumstances that favoured its evolution? We examined this question by creating experimental phenotypes in which the location information of the dances was obscured. Surprisingly, in two temperate habitats, these colonies performed only insignificantly worse than colonies which were able to communicate normally. However, foraging efficiency was substantially impaired in an Asian tropical forest following this manipulation. This indicates that dance language communication about food source locations may be important in some habitats, but not in others. Combining published data and our own, we assessed the clustering of bee forage sites in a variety of habitats by evaluating the bees’ dances. We found that the indicated sites are more clustered in tropical than in temperate habitats. This supports the hypothesis that in the context of foraging, the dance language is an adaptation to the particular habitats in which the honey bees evolved. We discuss our findings in relation to spatial aggregation patterns of floral food in temperate and tropical habitats.