Dance communication affects consistency, but not breadth, of resource use in pollen-foraging honey bees

Matina Donaldson-Matasci, Anna Dornhaus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


In groups of cooperatively foraging individuals, communication may improve the group's performance by directing foraging effort to where it is most useful. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) use a specialized dance to communicate the location of floral resources. Because honey bees dance longer for more rewarding resources, communication may shift the colony's foraging effort towards higher quality resources, and thus narrow the spectrum of resource types used. To test the hypothesis that dance communication changes how much honey bee colonies specialize on particular resources, we manipulated their ability to communicate location, and assessed the relative abundance of different pollen taxa they collected. This was repeated across five natural habitats that differed in floral species richness and spatial distribution. Contrary to expectation, impairing communication did not change the number or diversity of pollen (resource) types used by individual colonies per day. However, colonies with intact dance communication were more consistent in their resource use, while those with impaired communication were more likely to collect rare, novel pollen types. This suggests that communication plays an important role in shaping how much colonies invest in exploring new resources versus exploiting known ones. Furthermore, colonies that did more exploration also tended to collect less pollen overall, but only in environments with greater floral abundance per patch. In such environments, the ability to effectively exploit highly rewarding resources may be especially important-and dance communication may help colonies do just that. This could help explain how communication benefits honey bee colonies, and also why it does so only under certain environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number0107527
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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