The Role Of Communication In The Foraging Process Of Social Bees

In the various groups of social bees, different systems of communication about food sources occur. These communication systems are different solutions to a common problem of social insects: efficiently allocating the necessary number of workers first to the task of foraging and second to the most profitable food sources. The solution chosen by each species depends on the particular ecological circumstances as well as the evolutionary history of that species. For example, the outstanding difference between the bumble bee and the honey bee systemIn the various groups of social bees, different systems of communication about food sources occur. These communication systems are different solutions to a common problem of social insects: efficiently allocating the necessary number of workers first to the task of foraging and second to the most profitable food sources. The solution chosen by each species depends on the particular ecological circumstances as well as the evolutionary history of that species. For example, the outstanding difference between the bumble bee and the honey bee system is that honey bees can communicate the location of profitable food sources to nestmates, which bumble bees cannot. To identify possible selection pressures that could explain this difference, I have quantified the benefits of communicating location in honey bees. I show that these strongly depend on the habitat, and that communicating location might not benefit bees in temperate habitats. This could be due to the differing spatial distributions of resources in different habitats, in particular between temperate and tropical regions. These distributions may be the reason why the mostly temperate-living bumble bees have never evolved a communication system that allows them to transfer information on location of food sources, whereas most tropical social bees (all honey bees and many stingless bees) are able to recruit nestmates to specific points in their foraging range. Nevertheless, I show that in bumble bees the allocation of workers to foraging is also regulated by communication. Successful foragers distribute in the nest a pheromone which alerts other bees to the presence of food. This pheromone stems from a tergite gland, the function of which had not been identified previously. Usage of a pheromone in the nest to alert other individuals to forage has not been described in other social insects, and might constitute a new mode of communicating about food sources. The signal might be modulated depending on the quality of the food source. Bees in the nest sample the nectar that has been brought into the nest. Their decision whether to go out and forage depends not only on the pheromone signal, but also on the quality of the nectar they have sampled. In this way, foraging activity of a bumble bee colony is adjusted to foraging conditions, which means most bees are allocated to foraging only if high-quality food sources are available. In addition, foraging activity is adjusted to the amount of food already stored. In a colony with full honeypots, no new bees are allocated to foraging.

The Role Of Communication In The Foraging Process Of Social Bees