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Dancing bees cast their votes on the best land-types and areas for their food collection

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Published on May 22, 2014

This video describes the research project "Dancing bees communicate a foraging preference for rural lands in High Level Agri-Environment Schemes" carried out by Margaret Couvillon, Roger Schürch and Francis Ratnieks at the Laboratory of Apiculture & Social Insects (LASI), University of Sussex, UK and published in the scientific journal Current Biology in May 2014.

Honey bees communicate with their waggle dances a general foraging preference for rural lands under High Level Agri-Environment Schemes, against rural lands under Organic Entry Level Agri-Environment Schemes, and a specific preference for Castle Hill National Nature Reserve. More generally, the research shows that honey bees can act as bio-indicators, surveying large areas and then communicating their vote for the best locations to collect their food, nectar and pollen. Because honey bees are generalist foragers, the same "quality" areas will also be good forage locations for other pollinating insects.

The project decoded 5484 waggle dances made by honey bees kept in glass-walled observation hives at LASI over a 2-year period. Honey bees foraging on highly rewarding patches of flowers, upon returning to the hive, make waggle dances. These dances communicate to nestmate bees the direction and distance from the hive to the flowers, information that can then be decoded by eavesdropping researchers. Here, the researchers also corrected for distance in their analysis of land-type preference, which has not been previously done. This means that dances for further away areas are given more weight in the analysis.

The waggle dance is a unique communication behaviour of honey bees. No other animals tell researchers where they have been gathering food. Here researchers allowed the honey bee, an organism that will benefit from a healthy rural environment, to evaluate that environment itself and the human efforts in place to make it more wildlife-friendly.

This research is part of the Sussex Plan for Honey Bee Health and Well Being.

Video produced by Dr. Margaret Couvillon & Dr. Roger Schürch

Research published in Current Biology in May 2014. Publication available after 22 May at
http://www.cell.com/current-biology/a...

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