How habitat affects the benefits of communication in collectively foraging honey bees
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) use the dance language to symbolically convey information about the location of floral resources from within the nest. To figure out why this unique ability evolved, we need to understand the benefits it offers to the colony. Previous studies have shown that, in fact, the location information in the dance is not always beneficial. We ask, in which ecological habitats do honey bee colonies actually benefit from the dance language, and what is it about those habitats that makes communication useful? In this study, we examine the effects of floral distribution patterns on the benefits of dance communication across five different habitats. In each habitat, we manipulated colonies' ability to communicate and measured their foraging success, while simultaneously characterizing the naturally occurring floral distribution. We find that communication is most beneficial when floral species richness is high and patches contain many flowers. These are ecological features that could have helped shape the evolution of the honey bee dance language.