Journal Article

Foraging bumblebees use social cues more when the task is difficult

David Baracchi, Vera Vasas, Soha Jamshed Iqbal and Sylvain Alem

Edited by Dan Papaj

in Behavioral Ecology

Published on behalf of International Society of Behavioural Ecology

Volume 29, issue 1, pages 186-192
Published in print January 2018 | ISSN: 1045-2249
Published online November 2017 | e-ISSN: 1465-7279 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/beheco/arx143
Foraging bumblebees use social cues more when the task is difficult

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Zoology and Animal Sciences
  • Animal Behaviour and Behavioural Ecology

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Abstract

When foraging in their natural environment, many animals readily complement their personal knowledge with additional social information. To balance the costs and benefits of copying others, animals have to discern situations in which it is more advantageous to use social rather than personal information. Here, we used foraging bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) in a controlled laboratory setting and showed that the difficulty of a foraging task affects how the bees weight the 2 types of information. We used artificial flowers to devise easy and difficult discriminatory tasks, and tested the influence of floral and social cues on decision making. When facing an easy discrimination task, foraging bees were likely to rely on personal information and were only marginally affected by social information. By contrast, they prioritized social over personal information when flower discrimination was difficult and therefore the probability of making errors was higher. In summary, bees are able to use social and personal information to optimize foraging decisions in a flexible way.

Keywords: associative learning; decision making; insect cognition; learning strategy; social learning

Journal Article.  5896 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Zoology and Animal Sciences ; Animal Behaviour and Behavioural Ecology

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