, Volume 56, Issue 6, pp 594-601
Date: 22 Jul 2004

Quorum sensing during nest-site selection by honeybee swarms

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Abstract

This study addresses a question about the nest-site selection process of honeybee swarms: how do the scout bees know when to initiate the preparation for their swarm’s move to their new home? We tested the quorum-sensing hypothesis: that the scouts do this by noting when one of the potential nest sites under consideration is being visited by a sufficiently large number of scouts. A falsifiable prediction of this hypothesis is that delaying the formation of a quorum of scout bees at a swarm’s chosen nest cavity, while leaving the rest of the decision-making process undisturbed, should delay the start of worker piping (the prepare-for-takeoff signal) and thus the takeoff of the swarm. In paired trials, we presented each of four swarms once with five nest boxes close to each other at a site and once with a single nest box. The multiple nest boxes caused the scouts visiting the site to be dispersed among five identical nest cavities rather than concentrated at one. We observed long delays in the start of piping and the start of takeoff in the five-nest-box trials relative to the one-nest-box trials. These results provide strong support for the quorum-sensing hypothesis.

Communicated by M. Giurfa