, Volume 50, Issue 4, pp 454–462 | Cite as

The effect of conspecific cues on honey bee foraging behavior

  • Eva S. Horna LowellEmail author
  • Julie A. Morris
  • Mayra C. Vidal
  • Catherine S. Durso
  • Shannon M. Murphy
Original article


Foraging honey bees (Apis mellifera) seem to use the presence of conspecific foragers as cues for flower quality. However, there is disagreement regarding how a conspecific cue is perceived by other foragers (enhancement or inhibition). Most studies manipulate the total number of bees foraging in an arena or the presence or absence of a bee on a flower and then observe the behavior of one forager in response to a single conspecific, which does not reflect natural foraging. We tested how a range of conspecifics on flowers affected on which flowers foraging honey bees landed. We trained students from a biology class for non-STEM majors to collect data and tested whether the number of conspecifics on flowers influences on which flower foragers land. We found that foragers land more frequently on flowers occupied by more conspecifics, which supports the hypothesis that conspecifics are cues for local enhancement. Our results increase our understanding of how honey bees forage once at a flower patch.


foraging behavior honey bee Apis mellifera floral resource social cue 



We thank the students from the “Sustaining Life” undergraduate class at the University of Denver for helping to collect data and the teaching assistants from all the lab sections of the course who helped the students run the experiment (Faith Lierheimer, Lisa Clark, Claudia Hallagan, and lab director, Angie Hebel). We thank the Murphy lab, the University of Denver Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (DUEEB) group, and Amy Toth for helpful suggestions on earlier versions that greatly improved our manuscript.

Authors’ contributions

ESHL and SM conceived the project and designed the experiment. ESHL, SM, and JM trained students to perform the experiment. ESHL, SM, JM, and MV performed data collection. CD and MV performed statistical analysis. ESHL wrote the first draft of the paper, and all authors helped write sections of the paper or contributed substantially to revisions. All authors have read and approved the final version of this paper.

Funding information

We thank the University of Denver Undergraduate Research Center for funding our research with an award to ESHL.

Supplementary material

13592_2019_657_Fig3_ESM.png (22 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 3

The amount of sugar water left in Eppendorf tubes after leaving a small array of 8 fake flowers outside for 0.5, 1, 1.5, 2, 3, and 4 minutes. The red dotted-line marks 1.75 mL and any points below this line represent an amount of sugar water in the tube for which the honeybees had to compete for access to sugar water resource. (PNG 22.0 kb)

13592_2019_657_MOESM1_ESM.tif (167 kb)
ESM 1 (TIFF 167 kb)
13592_2019_657_Fig4_ESM.png (270 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 4

The two principal components (PCA1 and PCA2) that summarize our climatic variables, which were percent cloud cover, percent humidity, temperature, and time of day. The figure on the left shows the eigenvalues for each individual data point we collected of our climatic variables, and the figure on right shows the average eigenvalues for each of our climatic variables. (PNG 270 kb)

13592_2019_657_MOESM2_ESM.tif (1.3 mb)
ESM 2 (TIFF 1.33 mb)
13592_2019_657_Fig5_ESM.png (42 kb)
Supplementary Fig. 5

Result from generalized additive models showing a linear relationship for the smooth term # of bees recruited as a function of the initial # of bees on the flowers. (PNG 41.8 kb)

13592_2019_657_MOESM3_ESM.tif (145 kb)
ESM 3 (TIFF 144 kb)


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Copyright information

© INRA, DIB and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of DenverDenverUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biology, 358 Life Sciences ComplexSyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  3. 3.Center for Statistics and VisualizationUniversity of DenverDenverUSA

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