Multimodal signals enhance decision making in foraging bumble-bees

Ipek G. Kulahci, Anna Dornhaus, Daniel R. Papaj

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

148 Scopus citations


Multimodal signals are common in nature and have recently attracted considerable attention. Despite this interest, their function is not well understood. We test the hypothesis that multimodal signals improve decision making in receivers by influencing the speed and the accuracy of their decisions. We trained bumble-bees (Bombus impatiens) to discriminate between artificial flowers that differed either in one modality, visual (specifically, shape) or olfactory, or in two modalities, visual plus olfactory. Bees trained on multimodal flowers learned the rewarding flowers faster than those trained on flowers that differed only in the visual modality and, in extinction trials, visited the previously rewarded flowers at a higher rate than bees trained on unimodal flowers. Overall, bees showed a speed-accuracy trade-off; bees that made slower decisions achieved higher accuracy levels. Foraging on multimodal flowers did not affect the slope of the speed-accuracy relationship, but resulted in a higher intercept, indicating that multimodal signals were associated with consistently higher accuracy across range of decision speeds. Our results suggest that bees make more effective decisions when flowers signal in more than one modality, and confirm the importance of studying signal components together rather than separately.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)797-802
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1636
StatePublished - Apr 7 2008


  • Bombus
  • Bumble-bees
  • Decision making
  • Multimodal signals
  • Plant-pollinator interactions
  • Speed-accuracy trade-off

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Multimodal signals enhance decision making in foraging bumble-bees'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this