Honeybees' Waggle Dance No Longer Useful In Some Cultivated Landscapes

PHYS.org Universitaet Mainz February 25, 2019

A honeybee performing a waggle dance. Credit: Christoph Grüter

A honeybee performing a waggle dance. Credit: Christoph Grüter

For bees and other social insects, being able to exchange information is vital for the success of their colony. One way honeybees do this is through their waggle dance, which is a unique pattern of behavior, which probably evolved more than 20 million years ago. A bee's waggle dance tells its sisters in the colony where to find a high-quality source of food. However, in recent years, people have begun to study the actual benefits of this dance language. Biologists at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in Germany have now shed some new light on the benefits and disadvantages of the bee dance.

"To our surprise, we found that bee colonies are more successful at collecting food if they are deprived of their dance language," reported Dr. Christoph Grüter, a behavioral ecologist at Mainz University. One possible reason may be human-induced habitat change. Together with his colleagues in Lausanne, Grüter conducted experiments over several years to examine the effect of the dance language on a colony's success.

There are about 10 species of honeybees that communicate through waggle dancing. However, the vast majority of bees, i.e., more than 500 species of highly social, stingless insects, have no dance language. Thus, Grüter was interested in the benefits the waggle dance brings to colonies, not least because, as a communication strategy, it is relatively time-consuming. Some waggle dances can last only a few seconds, while others may take up to five minutes.

In the experiments, the scientists manipulated the conditions influencing some of the bee colonies in order to confuse and disorientate the dancing bees. Performed under such conditions, the waggle dance no longer made sense to its bee audience. To create these conditions, light was prevented from falling on the honeycombs, and they were also turned into a horizontal position, preventing the bees from using gravity to orientate themselves.

Another particularly important aspect was to take into account their ability to memorize the location of food. "Bees foraging for food have an excellent memory and can recall a rich feeding spot for several days," explained Grüter. Thus, the research team had to prevent foragers performing the waggle dance for 18 days to ensure they could not use their memory to tell other bees where to fly to find the excellent sources of food. Foraging bees are older than other colony members. In their final phase of life, they no longer work in the hive, but go out to collect nectar and pollen. Typically, they are in the last 18 days of their life.

A colony of bees on a horizontal honeycomb. The researchers rotated the honeycombs to lie horizontally, making it impossible for the bees to orientate themselves with the help of light or gravity. The hive was placed on a balance to record variations in biomass weight. Credit: Christoph Grüter

A colony of bees on a horizontal honeycomb. The researchers rotated the honeycombs to lie horizontally, making it impossible for the bees to orientate themselves with the help of light or gravity. The hive was placed on a balance to record variations in biomass weight. Credit: Christoph Grüter

Honeybees with no information from the waggle dance are more effective in challenging conditions

The team of biologists was surprised by their result that beehives without the dance information were more active and produced more honey than beehives that used dance language. "We were expecting to confirm that dance language was important, but our results were the exact opposite," said Dr. Robbie I'Anson Price, lead author of the study. "I suspect that the bees probably lose interest when confronted with a disoriented dance, and they go out to search for food on their own initiative," added Price. The differences are significant: Bees in colonies with no dance language went on foraging flights that were eight minutes longer and yielded 29 percent more honey over the entire 18-day period than bees using the waggle dance.

The conclusion is that some bees, such as the Buckfast bee, a 100-year-old cross-bred western honeybee used in this study, may do better without social communication. Grüter believes that the environment and the availability of food play an important role. If there is a large apple tree in full bloom nearby, then waiting for information on its location is probably a good strategy. If, on the other hand, there is only a sparse scattering of flowering plants on balconies or roadsides, it may be better to leave the hive sooner and forage independently. "In our opinion, the behavior we observed can be primarily explained in terms of how much time the bees save," said Grüter.

Colonies of bees on vertical honeycombs, the standard orientation of hives. The hives were placed on balances to record variations in biomass weight. Credit: Christoph Grüter

Colonies of bees on vertical honeycombs, the standard orientation of hives. The hives were placed on balances to record variations in biomass weight. Credit: Christoph Grüter

Bees might be able to learn how to assess the value of waggle dance information

By observing the bees, the scientists made the extraordinary discovery that the bees were apparently able to judge the relevance of the information content of a dance and hence would lose interest in disoriented dancing. "It looks as if after a while they become aware that something is wrong," postulated Grüter. "Our results raise the possibility that humans have created environments to which the waggle dance language is not well adapted," write the authors in their study, recently published in the renowned journal Science Advances.

The idea that bees may be capable of evaluating the quality of information in a dance is one that Grüter wants to investigate more closely in the future. He is also planning to repeat the experiments in the Mainz area under different conditions—in urban and rural areas and at different times of the year.

Christoph Grüter has been head of a research team at the Institute of Organismic and Molecular Evolution at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz since 2015. Previously, he was head of a research group at the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. His group investigates how social insects organize and coordinate their collective activities, with communication in insect colonies playing a central role.

Explore further: How honeybees read the waggle dance

More information: R. I'Anson Price et al, Honeybees forage more successfully without the "dance language" in challenging environments, Science Advances (2019). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat0450

Journal Reference: Science Advances

Provided by: Universitaet Mainz

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-02-honeybees-waggle-longer-cultivated-landscapes.html#jCp

How Honey Bees Read the Waggle Dance

Science Daily     Source: Society for Neuroscience     October 9, 2017

Left: To inform their hivemates about the location of profitable flowers, a honeybee performs the waggle dance with specific vibration patterns. Right: Composite image of three interneurons in the honeybee brain which show unique responses to such vibrations. Credit: Courtesy of Ai et al.Neurons that enable honeybees to sense the waggle dance -- a form of symbolic communication used by female bees to inform the hivemates about the location of a food source -- are investigated in new research published in JNeurosci.

Upon returning to the hive, female working bees perform a dance that represents the distance and direction of nectar-rich flowers. Since the waggle dance was first described in 1967 (and its discovery awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1973), it has remained unknown how the honeybee brain deciphers the dance into useful information.

Hiroyuki Ai and colleagues raised honeybees in hives on the Fukuoka University campus in Japan to study how three major types of interneurons in the auditory center of the honeybee brain respond to vibration pulses similar to those produced during the waggle phase of the dance. Their work lays a foundation for understanding how social insects process symbolic communication.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171009135435.htm

Journal Reference: Hiroyuki Ai et al. Interneurons in the honeybee primary auditory center responding to waggle dance-like vibration pulses. JNeurosci, 2017 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0044-17.2017

Pollen Deprived Bees Don't Make Good Dancers

The New York Times   By Sindya N. Bhanoo   April 20, 2015

Worker bees without access to adequate pollen early in life turn out to be poor foragers, and dancers, as adults.

The bees’ so-called waggle dance, a figure-eight movement, is used to tell other members of the colony how far and in what direction to fly to find flowers. If the pollen-deprived bees went out to forage, they often did not return, said Heather Mattila, a biologist at Wellesley College..

Dr. Mattila and Hailey Scofield, an undergraduate student, raised one group of bees with limited access to pollen and another with adequate pollen. They combined the bees in one hive and observed them. Their study was published this month in PLOS One.

“Pollen-stressed workers were less likely to waggle dance, and if they danced, the information they conveyed was less precise,” Dr. Mattila said.

Outside the lab, bees encounter pollen stress regularly. At the beginning of spring, for instance, cold weather makes it difficult to search for pollen, and flowers have not fully bloomed.

Poor foraging and waggle dancing could add to the decline in honeybees, and threaten crops like apples and almonds that depend on the insects for pollination, Dr. Mattila said.

Read at: http://goo.gl/g1UB7r

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/science/pollen-deprived-bees-dont-make-good-dancers.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

Honey Bee Dances Lead the Way on Agriculture and the Environment

Western Daily Press    By Jeff Wells   May 23, 2013

Honey bees' foraging preferences can provide valuable information for governments about how to better manage rural landscapes, according to new research.

In the past two decades, the European Union has spent 41 billion euros (£33.4 billion) on agri-environment schemes (AES), which aim to improve the rural landscape by bringing in changes such as the creation of areas for wildlife around crop fields.

There are different levels of AES, although few studies exist evaluating how wildlife responds to the schemes, researchers at the University of Sussex have said.

But a study published in the journal Current Biology has revealed that a honey bee's waggle dance, in which it waggles its abdomen while moving in a figure-of-eight pattern to tell its nest mates where to find good sources of pollen and nectar, identifies the better areas as being in rural lands under a higher level AES rather than any other land type, including urban areas and rural lands not under AES.

Researchers at Sussex's Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (Lasi) spent two years filming waggle dances made by worker honey bees living in glass-fronted observation hives.

They then decoded the dances to discover where bees were gathering their food.

By combining the waggle dance data with maps of land use, the researchers could make a landscape-wide survey of the surrounding 94sq km (36sq miles) because honey bees forage at long distances from their hives.

The bees were able to access the surrounding city and countryside through tubes in the lab wall that opened to the outside.

The landscape was divided into one of seven land types – urban, rural, and five types of rural under government-funded AESs, a university spokeswoman said.

The study showed that the most plentiful areas for foraging were rural lands in higher AESs.

Lead researcher Dr Margaret Couvillon said: "Usually efforts to help wildlife takes two approaches.

"One is to set aside important areas like National Parks or National Nature Reserves.

"Another approach is to make existing areas more wildlife-friendly, like the agri-environment schemes. Here we have let the bees tell us which practices and what areas are good for them.

"The honey bee is acting as an 'indicator' species pointing to 'healthy landscapes'. The honey bee is a generalist forager, so landscapes used by honey bees are good for a wide range of pollinators.

"The waggle dance is, therefore, more than just behaviour. It is a powerful tool for ecology and conservation."

Read more: http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/Honey-bees-say-policy/story-21131862-detail/story.html#ixzz32YSi3AWO

Wondering about State of the Environment? Just Eavesdrop on Bees

Science Daily    Source: Cell Press        May 22,2014

Want a simple way to monitor wide swaths of the landscape without breaking a sweat? Listen in on the 'conversations' honeybees have with each other, researchers suggest. The scientists' analyses of honeybee waggle dances suggest that costly measures to set aside agricultural lands and let the wildflowers grow can be very beneficial to bees.

Researchers have devised a simple way to monitor wide swaths of the landscape without breaking a sweat: by listening in on the "conversations" honeybees have with each other. The scientists' analyses of honeybee waggle dances reported in the Cell Press journalCurrent Biology on May 22 suggest that costly measures to set aside agricultural lands and let the wildflowers grow can be very beneficial to bees.

"In the past two decades, the European Union has spent €41 billion on agri-environment schemes, which aim to improve the rural landscape health and are required for all EU-member states," says Margaret Couvillon of the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex. "However, there is little evidence evaluating these schemes. Our work uses a novel source of data -- the honeybee, an organism that itself can benefit from a healthy rural landscape -- to evaluate not only the environment, but also the schemes used to manage that environment."

Couvillon and her colleagues, led by Francis Ratnieks, recorded and decoded the waggle dances of bees in three hives over a two-year period. Bees dance to tell their fellow bees where to find the good stuff: the best nectar and pollen. The angle of their dances conveys information about the direction of resources while the duration conveys distance. Researchers can measure those dance characteristics in a matter of minutes with a protractor and timer.

In all, the researchers "eavesdropped" on 5,484 dances to find that the best forage within the 94 km2 of mixed urban-rural landscape included in the study -- as far as bees and, by extension, other insect pollinators are concerned -- is a place called Castle Hill, which happened to be the only National Nature Reserve in the area. More broadly, High Level agri-environment schemes were the best places for bees.

The researchers were surprised to find that Organic Entry Level agri-environment schemes were the least frequented by bees. According to Couvillon, it may be that the regular mowing required initially to discourage certain plants from growing in those plots might leave few wildflowers for bees.

The study shows that honeybees can serve as bioindicators to monitor large land areas and provide information relevant to better environmental management, the researchers say. It also gives new meaning to the term "worker bee."

"Imagine the time, manpower, and cost to survey such an area on foot -- to monitor nectar sources for quality and quantity of production, to count the number of other flower-visiting insects to account for competition, and then to do this over and over for two foraging years," Couvillon says. "Instead, we have let the honeybees do the hard work of surveying the landscape and integrating all relevant costs and then providing, through their dance communication, this biologically relevant information about landscape quality."

Read at...
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140522123453.htm

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell PressNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Margaret J. Couvillon, Roger Schürch, Francis L.W. Ratnieks. Dancing Bees Communicate a Foraging Preference for Rural Lands in High-Level Agri-Environment SchemesCurrent Biology, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.03.072

Decoding Waggle Dances to Determine Where Honey Bees Forage

University of Sussex     4/17/14

The number of bee hives in the UK has declined by nearly 75 per cent in the past century, from approximately one million to 280,000. One major reason for this is change in land use leading to fewer flowers. Fields of wheat and barley now have few weeds. Fields of grass now have few wild flowers and clover is less used. hay meadows are increasingly rare and much of the heather moorland has been ploughed up or lost to urbanisation. To stay in business, commercial beekeepers need hives to produce reasonable honey crops.

Successful honey bee foragers make waggle dances when they return to the hive. These dances tell nestmates the direction and distance of profitable flower patches. The dances can also be decoded by researchers, using observation hives and video cameras. Honey bees literally tell the researchers where they have been foraging - they are the only animals doing this. Decoding dances provide an effective means of investigating honey bee feeding ecology. Previous LASI research has shown that honey bees fly up to 14km to highly rewarding patches of heather. By decoding waggle dances we will be able to determine which parts of the landscape are good for honey bees, and how this varies in different seasons and months. This information will be of value to people who are responsible for growing plants and who want to make Britain a more bee and insect friendly country, including farmers, land managers, parks departments, and gardeners. Because honey bees are generalist foragers, foraging on plants also visited by other pollinating insects, the results of this project will help other insect species including bumble bees, other wild bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

Decoding bee dances will also be used to investigate the stress caused by moving hives. Beekeepers often move hives by truck, and it is suggested that the stress caused by moving hives can be harmful. One form of stress on the bees will be the need to “relearn” where to forge in a new location.

Main aims

To determine the habitats and distances from the hive that honey bees collect food, the plants that they visit, and to make recommendations for land use in both rural and urban areas that benefit honey bees and beekeepers.

Read more... 
http://www.sussex.ac.uk/lasi/sussexplan/dances

 

Summer Blues for Bees According to University of Sussex Research

The Argus News   4/18/14

Summer is the most challenging season for honey bees to collect nectar and pollen, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Sussex Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) spent two years filming honey bees in its glass-fronted observation hives.

They then decoded their waggle dances to discover how far the bees were having to fly to find sources of food during different seasons.

The waggle dance, in which the bee waggles its abdomen while moving in a figure of eight pattern, is performed by returning forager bees in the hive to tell its nest mates where to find good sources of pollen and nectar.

The dance indicates the distance to a patch of flowers from the hive and the direction from the hive.

The bees were able to access the surrounding downland countryside and Brighton and Hove through tube tunnels that opened to the outside of the lab.

By examining the waggle dance data, researchers found that in summer, honey bees were covering areas 22 times greater than in spring and six times greater than in the autumn.

The study also showed summer is probably a harder season both because there are fewer flowers but also because there are more insects active at that time, competing with each other for nectar and pollen.

Margaret Couvillon, who led the research, said: “We eavesdropped on what the bees were communicating to each other about where to find good food.

“What they told each other shows that they are finding it harder to find food in the summer than in the spring or autumn.

“In any conservation work, it is important to know where the animal collects its food.

“Some researchers attach tracking devices to the animals they study, which we cannot do because the honey bees are too small.

“But we also don’t have to because the honey bee is the only animal that tells you directly where it has collected food.”

The results could be used to focus efforts to help bees better, researchers say.

Read at...

http://m.theargus.co.uk/news/11157720.Summer_blues_for_bees/

Scientists Decode Honeybee 'Waggle Dance'

 The Guardian   By Alison Benjamin   April 3, 2014

Unique form of communication allowed researchers to map the distance and location where bees foraged from month to month 

A honeybee who has found a good source of nectar or pollen performs a waggle dance to tell her nestmates where she has foraged. Here she repeatedly communicates that the profitable food location is at approximately 750m from the hive and about 270 degrees from the sun's azimuth

Honeybees fly much longer distances in the summer than in the spring and autumn to find good sources of food, a new study has found.

Researchers at Sussex University spent two years decoding the "waggle dance" of thousands of honeybees, a form of communication by which the bees tell their nestmates where to go to get the best source of food to bring back to the hive.

By measuring the angle of the dance in relation to the sun and the length of time the bee waggled its abdomen while moving in a figure of eight pattern, researchers have been able to map the distance and location where bees forage from month to month.

With a one second waggle equating to a foraging distance of 750 metres, the bees dance language revealed that the area they covered in search of food is approximately 22 times greater in the summer (July and August) than in spring (March) and six times greater in summer than in the autumn (October). In the summer the area they cover is 15.2km sq, compared to 0.8km in spring and 5.1km in the autumn.

Honeybees will not waste valuable time and energy travelling to find food if they don’t need to, so the researchers say the results, published in the journal PlOS One, show that the summer is the most challenging season for bees to collect the nectar and pollen from flowers.

“There is an abundance of flowers in the spring from crocuses and dandelions to blossoming fruit trees. And in the autumn there is an abundance of flowering ivy. But it is harder for them to locate good patches of flowers in the summer because agricultural intensification means there are fewer wildflowers in the countryside for bees,” said Frances Ratnieks, professor of apiculture at Sussex University, who supervised the study.

Honeybees face many challenges including increasing lack of forage because of modern farming practices.

The researcher say the results can be used to focus efforts to help bees better. “The bees are telling us where they are foraging so we can now understand how best to help them by planting more flowers for them in the summer,” said Ratnieks.

This video describes the research project Waggle dance distances as integrative indicators of seasonal foraging challenges carried out by Margaret Couvillon, Roger Schürch and Francis Ratnieks at the Laboratory of Apiculture & Social Insects (LASI) in the School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex

Honeybees may also have to forage further in the summer because they have more mouths to feed when the colony expands to 50,000 bees and there is more competition for food from other insects and pollinators including bumblebees.

The glass-fronted observation hives are located at the university campus surrounded by the South Downs countryside and a few kilometres from the city parks and gardens of nearby Brighton and Hove.

The waggle dance clearly show that the bees are heading to the downs in the summer and researchers are currently examining which flowers they are feeding there.

The honeybee dance language was first decoded by Austrian scientist Karl von Frisch who was awarded a Nobel prize in 1973 for the discovery.

Ratnieks said its work will benefit other pollinators, such as bumblebees.

“Mapping the waggle dance will allow us to help other species, because where honeybees find good food, we have already found a plethora of other pollinating insects feeding there,” said Ratnieks. “So we can improve forage for all these insects.”

The Sussex research comes as the the IUCN's latest "red list" of threatened species update warns that 24% of Europe’s 68 bumblebee species are threatened with extinction. According to the Status and Trends of European Pollinators, loss of habitat and wildflowers due to modern farming practices and urban development, plus changes in temperature from climate change, are the main threats to the species.

Read article (and comments) and view video at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/03/honeybees-fly-further-in-summer-to-find-food-study-shows?commentpage=1
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yELA7pvNUQI#t=115
Related articles: 
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0093495
http://www.sussex.ac.uk/newsandevents/?id=24883&intrefk=slideshow&intrefv=slide3

(FYI:  There were numerous comments to this article, such as:

"The waggle dance was first decoded by Austrian scientist Karl von Firsch who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1973 for the discovery."

The question was asked: "Why was it necessary for Sussex academics to spend two years studying the English waggle dance?" 

Response: "You ask why, but if you read the paper linked to in the article it clearly explains why. 
http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0093495

Essentially because the waggle dance has been so well studied, it has been decoded. Therefore the waggle dance can be used to work out the foraging distances of the Honeybees.

The study says that most previous studies decoding the waggle dance have only been over a few weeks or months of the much longer year. This it says is partly down to the time consuming nature of decoding the waggle dance. However, advances have made it easier to decode the waggle dance. Therefore they set out to use this methodology to work out the Honeybee's foraging distances for the whole year.

The reason for this study is because of the decline of Honeybees. They wanted to know how far bees foraged at different times of the year and whether more flowers may help in an agricultural landscape, which often has large areas devoid of food (flowers) for foraging bees.

In other words it is part of the strategy for understanding and reversing the decline of Honeybees. The decline of Honeybees has a great cost, and if they decline even more, along with wild pollinators it might seriously effect agricultural production (almond production in California is already badly hit), and have major economic impacts.

So you ask how much this costs as if it is a waste of money, when the intention is to save the money being lost due to the decline in Honeybees."

Response: "Thankyou for providing the apparent reason for the work, which was to extend Frisch's work to the whole of the active season. This key piece of information was missing from the article.")

 

Polarized Light Guides Honeybees To Honey Source

AsianScientist     1/21/14

Honeybees use the pattern of polarized light in the sky, invisible to humans, to direct one another to a honey source, according to a study.

Scientists have found that honeybees use the pattern of polarized light in the sky invisible to humans to direct one another to a honey source.

The study, conducted by Professor Mandyam Srinivasan from the Queensland Brain Institute at The University of Queensland, demonstrated that bees navigate to and from honey sources by reading the pattern of polarized light in the sky.

The discovery, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, shines new light on the astonishing navigational and communication skills of an insect with a brain the size of a pinhead.

“The bees tell each other where the nectar is by converting their polarized ‘light map’ into dance movements,” said Srinivasan. “The more we find out how honeybees make their way around the landscape, the more awed we feel at the elegant way they solve very complicated problems of navigation that would floor most people – and then communicate them to other bees.”

The researchers allowed bees to fly down a tunnel to a sugar source, shining only polarized light from above, either aligned with the tunnel or at right angles to the tunnel. They then filmed what the bees ‘told’ their peers, by...

Read more... http://www.asianscientist.com/in-the-lab/polarized-light-guides-honeybees-honey-source-2014/

Abstract: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1636/20130037.abstract

The Split Brain of Honey Bees

Science Magazine   By Andrew Porterfield  6/27/13

Honey bees may have only a fraction of our neurons—just under a million versus our tens of billions—but our brains aren't so different. Take sidedness. The human brain is divided into right and left sides—our right brain controls the left side of our body and vice versa. New research reveals that something similar happens in bees. When scientists removed the right or left antenna of honey bees, those insects with intact right antennae more quickly recognized bees from the same hive, stuck out their tongues (showing willingness to feed), and fended off invaders. Bees with just their left antennae took longer to recognize bees, didn't want to feed, and mistook familiar bees for foreign ones. This suggests, the team concludes today in Scientific Reportsthat bee brains have a sidedness just like ours do. The researchers also think that right antennae might control other bee behavior, like their sophisticated, mysterious "waggle dance" to indicate food. But there's no buzz for the left-antennaed. 

http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2013/06/scienceshot-the-split-brain-of-h.html

Related:http://news.yahoo.com/antenna-antics-honeybees-righties-130845798.html