Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Honeybee Decision-making Ability Rivals Any Department Committee

Date:
April 21, 2006
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
When 10,000 honeybees fly the coop to hunt for a new home, they have a unique method of deciding which site is right. And their technique, says Cornell biologist Thomas Seeley, includes coalition building until a quorum develops.

A honeybee swarm bivouacs on a tree branch, waiting for scout bees to select candidate sites for a new home, deliberate among the choices and then reach a verdict -- a process "complicated enough to rival the dealings of any department committee," says Cornell biologist Thomas Seeley.
Credit: Image courtesy of Thomas Seeley

When 10,000 honeybees fly the coop to hunt for a new home, usually a tree cavity, they have a unique method of deciding which site is right: With great efficiency they narrow down the options and minimize bad decisions.

Their technique, says Cornell University biologist Thomas Seeley, includes coalition building until a quorum develops.

The Seeley group's study, which is published in the May-June issue of American Scientist, might well be used to help improve human group decision-making, he says.

Scientists had known that honeybee scouts "waggle dance" to report on food. Seeley and his colleagues, however, have confirmed that they dance to report on real estate, too, as part of their group decision-making process.

The better the housing site, the stronger the waggle dance, the researchers found, and that prompts other scouts to visit a recommended site. If they agree it's a good choice, they also dance to advertise the site and revisit it frequently. Scouts committed to different sites compete to attract uncommitted scouts to their sites, the researchers have discovered, but because the bees grade their recruitment signals in relation to site quality, the scouts build up most rapidly at the best site.

As soon as 15 or more bees are at any one site, the researchers found, the scouts signal to the waiting bees in the swarm that it's time to warm up their flight muscles in preparation for takeoff. Each scout does so by scrambling through the swarm cluster and briefly pressing its vibrating thorax against the other bees to stimulate them to activate their wing muscles. Once every bee has its thorax warmed to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the swarm lifts off toward its new home.

"This is a striking example of decision making by an animal group that is complicated enough to rival the dealings of any department committee," said Seeley, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell and lead author of the article.

For more than 10 years, Seeley, University of California-Riverside entomologist Kirk Visscher (Cornell Ph.D. '85) and Ohio State University engineer Kevin Passino have been observing, videotaping, devising experiments and mathematically modeling honeybee swarms.

"The bees' method, which is a product of disagreement and contest rather than consensus or compromise, consistently yields excellent collective decisions," said Seeley.

When a hive gets too crowded, its queen and half the hive will swarm to a nearby tree and quietly wait while several hundred scouts go house hunting. To explore the decision-making process, the researchers conducted a series of experiments.

To study the waggle dancing for house hunting, the researchers:

* labeled all 4,000 bees in a swarm and recorded the scouts reporting on their site visits. At first, no one site dominated the dancing, but toward the end of the 16-hour decision-making process, one site was advertised much more heavily and eventually became the chosen home.
* offered bees both mediocre and superb nest sites. The better the site, the longer the bees waggle danced -- making 100 circuits for a first-rate site versus 12 for a mediocre one. The swarms almost always chose the excellent site.

To test whether the bees decide by quorum or consensus, the researchers:

* offered swarms two first-rate sites on Appledore Island in the Gulf of Maine, site of Cornell's Shoals Marine Laboratory, both equidistant from the swarm. As soon as about 15 bees were seen at one site, the swarm would take off for it, even though some scouts were still dancing strongly for the other site.
* offered five desirable nests and found that it took much longer for a quorum to develop at any one site, and takeoff took almost twice as long.

To study whether bees always choose the best site, the researchers offered swarms four small and one superior site in size. Although the superior site was never the first one found, it was almost always chosen.

These group decision-making methods, which include an open forum of ideas, frank "discussions" and friendly competition, just might help human committees "achieve collective intelligence and thus avoid collective folly," conclude the researchers.

Whether the quorum-setting method of aggregating independent opinions could substitute for a democratic vote remains to be seen, but it sure could speed up the process toward a swift, but smart, decision, Seeley said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Honeybee Decision-making Ability Rivals Any Department Committee." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 April 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060420233908.htm>.
Cornell University. (2006, April 21). Honeybee Decision-making Ability Rivals Any Department Committee. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060420233908.htm
Cornell University. "Honeybee Decision-making Ability Rivals Any Department Committee." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060420233908.htm (accessed August 22, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, August 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

Endangered Red Wolves Face Uncertain Future

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) A federal judge temporarily banned coyote hunting to save endangered red wolves, but local hunters say that the wolf preservation program does more harm than good. Meanwhile federal officials are reviewing its wolf program in North Carolina. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

Farm Resurgence Grows With Younger Crowd

AP (Aug. 22, 2014) New England farms are seeing a surge in younger farm hands as the 'buy local' food movement grows across the country. (Aug. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) An experimental drug used to treat Marburg virus in rhesus monkeys could give new insight into a similar treatment for Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Terrifying City-Dwelling Spiders Are Bigger And More Fertile

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) According to a new study, spiders that live in cities are bigger, fatter and multiply faster. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins