Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 66, Issue 4, pp 583–592 | Cite as

How habitat affects the benefits of communication in collectively foraging honey bees

  • Matina C. Donaldson-MatasciEmail author
  • Anna Dornhaus
Original Paper


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.


Apis mellifera Foraging Communication Species richness Spatial ecology Resource distribution 



M.C.D was funded by the University of Arizona's Center for Insect Science through a NIH Training Grant #1K12GM000708. A.D. was funded by NSF grants #IOS-0921280 and IOS-0841756. Honey bee colonies were kindly provided by R. Page at Arizona State University and G. DeGrandi-Hoffman at the USDA Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, and housed at the latter's facility with assistance from M. Chambers and T. Deeby. We thank E. Francis (SASI), L. Kennedy (AWRR), M. Heitlinger (SRER) and R. Smith (UADS) for their cooperation and support at our field sites. P. Jenkins of the UA Herbarium and L. Kennedyhelped with plant species identification. We gratefully acknowledge the field work assistance of N. Matasci, G. Barraza, J. Brown, J. Chappell, M. Hughes, J. Icely, N. Narkhede, S. Williams and Y. Zhu.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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