, Volume 191, Issue 12, pp 1107-1113
Date: 28 Jul 2005

Increase in dance imprecision with decreasing foraging distance in the honey bee Apis mellifera L. is partly explained by physical constraints

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Honey bee foragers communicate the direction and distance of both food sources and new nest sites to nest mates by means of a symbolic dance language. Interestingly, the precision by which dancers transfer directional information is negatively correlated with the distance to the advertised food source. The ‘tuned-error’ hypothesis suggests that colonies benefit from this imprecision as it spreads recruits out over a patch of constant size irrespective of the distance to the advertised site. An alternative to the tuned-error hypothesis is that dancers are physically incapable of dancing with great precision for nearby sources. Here we revisit the tuned-error hypothesis by studying the change in dance precision with increasing foraging distance over relatively short distances while controlling for environmental influences. We show that bees indeed increase their dance precision with the increase in foraging distance. However, we also show that dances performed by swarm-scouts for a nearby (30 m) nest site, where there could be no benefit to imprecision, are either without or with only limited directional information. This result suggests that imprecision in dance communication is caused primarily by physical constraints in the ability of dancers to turn around quickly enough when the advertised site is nearby.