Free Access
Volume 35, Number 2, March-April 2004
Information flow and group decision making in social bees
Page(s) 183 - 192
Apidologie 35 (2004) 183-192
DOI: 10.1051/apido:2004002

Information flow and regulation of foraging activity in bumble bees (Bombus spp.)

Anna Dornhausa and Lars Chittkab

a  School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol BS8 1UG, UK
b  School of Biological Sciences, Queen Mary College, University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS, UK

(Received 8 August 2003; revised 10 November 2003; accepted 15 December 2003)

Abstract - Communication in the context of foraging in bumble bees has received less attention than in other social bees. Yet, recent studies have revealed that information flow mediates colony foraging activity. The species studied do not recruit to specific locations, but bees can learn the scent of food sources at the nest, which may reduce their search time. Location communication may not confer high benefits to bumble bees. But bees react to nectar influx with increased foraging activity, with high quality food eliciting more activity. This shows that bees recognize and sample freshly collected nectar. If the colony has no demand for food, foraging activity does not increase. Successful foragers distribute a tergal gland pheromone in the nest that also elicits higher foraging activity. Information exchange in the nest thus enables bumble bees to base their decision to forage on demand and the presence and profitability of food.

Key words: Bombus terrestris / recruitment / social insect / collective foraging / communication

Corresponding author: Anna Dornhaus

© INRA, EDP Sciences, DIB, AGIB 2004