Global information sampling in the honey bee
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Central to the question of task allocation in social insects is how workers acquire information. Patrolling is a curious behavior in which bees meander over the face of the comb inspecting cells. Several authors have suggested it allows bees to collect global information, but this has never been formally evaluated. This study explores this hypothesis by answering three questions. First, do bees gather information in a consistent manner as they patrol? Second, do they move far enough to get a sense of task demand in distant areas of the nest? And third, is patrolling a commonly performed task? Focal animal observations were used to address the first two predictions, while a scan sampling study was used to address the third. The results were affirmative for each question. While patrolling, workers collected information by performing periodic clusters of cell inspections. Patrolling bees not only traveled far enough to frequently change work zone; they often visited every part of the nest. Finally, the majority of the bees in the middle-age caste were shown to move throughout the nest over the course of a few hours in a manner suggestive of patrolling. Global information collection is contrary to much current theory, which assumes that workers respond to local information only. This study thus highlights the nonmutually exclusive nature of various information collection regimes in social insects.
KeywordsInformation collection Task allocation Self-organization Patrolling Honey bees Social insects
I thank Rob Page and Kim Fondrk for providing resources for the experiment. Nigel Franks, Ana Sendova-Franks, Tom Richardson, Elva Robinson, Elizabeth Langridge, and three anonymous referees provided comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by a National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship. The experiments reported here comply with the current laws of the USA.
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