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Decision making in bee swarms mimic neurons in human brains

Date:
December 8, 2011
Source:
Cornell University
Summary:
Swarms of bees and brains made up of neurons make decisions using strikingly similar mechanisms, says a new study.

Swarms of bees and brain neurons make decisions using strikingly similar mechanisms.
Credit: Van Truan / Fotolia

Swarms of bees and brain neurons make decisions using strikingly similar mechanisms, reports a new study in the Dec. 9 issue of Science.

In previous work, Cornell University biologist Thomas Seeley clarified how scout bees in a honeybee swarm perform "waggle dances" to prompt other scout bees to inspect a promising site that has been found.

In the new study, Seeley, a professor of neurobiology and behavior, reports with five colleagues in the United States and the United Kingdom that scout bees also use inhibitory "stop signals" -- a short buzz delivered with a head butt to the dancer -- to inhibit the waggle dances produced by scouts advertising competing sites. The strength of the inhibition produced by each group of scouts is proportional to the group's size. This inhibitory signaling helps ensure that only one of the sites is chosen. This is especially important for reaching a decision when two sites are equally good, Seeley said.

Previous research has shown that bees use stop signals to warn nest-mates about such dangers as attacks at a food source. However, this is the first study to show the use of stop signals in house-hunting decisions.

Such use of stop signals in decision making is "analogous to how the nervous system works in complex brains," said Seeley. "The brain has similar cross inhibitory signaling between neurons in decision-making circuits."

Co-authors Patrick Hogan and James Marshall of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom explored the implications of the bees' cross-inhibitory signaling by modeling their collective decision-making process. Their analysis showed that stop signaling helps bees to break deadlocks between two equally good sites and to avoid costly dithering.

The study was funded by the Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station, the University of California-Riverside and the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Thomas D. Seeley, P. Kirk Visscher, Thomas Schlegel, Patrick M. Hogan, Nigel R. Franks, and James A. R. Marshall. Stop Signals Provide Cross Inhibition in Collective Decision-Making by Honeybee Swarms. Science, 8 December 2011 DOI: 10.1126/science.1210361

Cite This Page:

Cornell University. "Decision making in bee swarms mimic neurons in human brains." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 December 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111208142019.htm>.
Cornell University. (2011, December 8). Decision making in bee swarms mimic neurons in human brains. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111208142019.htm
Cornell University. "Decision making in bee swarms mimic neurons in human brains." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111208142019.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

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Decisions, Decisions: House-Hunting Honey Bees Work Like Complex Brains

Dec. 8, 2011 Researchers have found a signal, overlooked until now, that plays a role when honey bees split off from their mother colony and go scouting for a new home. Called the "stop signal," it is a ... read more
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