Foraging Bumble Bees Weigh the Reliability of Personal and Social Information

Aimee S. Dunlap, Matthew E. Nielsen, Anna Dornhaus, Daniel R. Papaj

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Many animals, including insects, make decisions using both personally gathered information and social information derived from the behavior of other, usually conspecific, individuals [1]. Moreover, animals adjust use of social versus personal information appropriately under a variety of experimental conditions [2-5]. An important factor in how information is used is the information's reliability, that is, how consistently the information is correlated with something of relevance in the environment [6]. The reliability of information determines which signals should be attended to during communication [6-9], which types of stimuli animals should learn about, and even whether learning should evolve [10, 11]. Here, we show that bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) account for the reliability of personally acquired information (which flower color was previously associated with reward) and social information (which flowers are chosen by other bees) in making foraging decisions; however, the two types of information are not treated equally. Bees prefer to use social information if it predicts a reward at all, but if social information becomes entirely unreliable, flower color will be used instead. This greater sensitivity to the reliability of social information, and avoidance of conspecifics in some cases, may reflect the specific ecological circumstances of bee foraging. Overall, the bees' ability to make decisions based on both personally acquired and socially derived information, and the relative reliability of both, demonstrates a new level of sophistication and flexibility in animal, particularly insect, decision-making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1195-1199
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 9 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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