A negative feedback signal that is triggered by peril curbs honey bee recruitment

Curr Biol. 2010 Feb 23;20(4):310-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.12.060. Epub 2010 Feb 11.


Decision making in superorganisms such as honey bee colonies often uses self-organizing behaviors, feedback loops that allow the colony to gather information from multiple individuals and achieve reliable and agile solutions. Honey bees use positive feedback from the waggle dance to allocate colony foraging effort. However, the use of negative feedback signals by superorganisms is poorly understood. I show that conspecific attacks at a food source lead to the production of stop signals, communication that was known to reduce waggle dancing and recruitment but lacked a clear natural trigger. Signalers preferentially targeted nestmates visiting the same food source, on the basis of its odor. During aggressive food competition, attack victims increased signal production by 43 fold. Foragers that attacked competitors or experienced no aggression did not alter signal production. Biting ambush predators also attack foragers at flowers. Simulated biting of foragers or exposure to bee alarm pheromone also elicited signaling (88-fold and 14-fold increases, respectively). This provides the first clear evidence of a negative feedback signal elicited by foraging peril to counteract the positive feedback of the waggle dance. As in intra- and intercellular communication, negative feedback may play an important, though currently underappreciated, role in self-organizing behaviors within superorganisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Competitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Feedback, Physiological / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Pheromones / physiology


  • Pheromones