Dancing bees improve colony foraging success as long-term benefits outweigh short-term costs

PLoS One. 2014 Aug 20;9(8):e104660. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0104660. eCollection 2014.


Waggle dancing bees provide nestmates with spatial information about high quality resources. Surprisingly, attempts to quantify the benefits of this encoded spatial information have failed to find positive effects on colony foraging success under many ecological circumstances. Experimental designs have often involved measuring the foraging success of colonies that were repeatedly switched between oriented dances versus disoriented dances (i.e. communicating vectors versus not communicating vectors). However, if recruited bees continue to visit profitable food sources for more than one day, this procedure would lead to confounded results because of the long-term effects of successful recruitment events. Using agent-based simulations, we found that spatial information was beneficial in almost all ecological situations. Contrary to common belief, the benefits of recruitment increased with environmental stability because benefits can accumulate over time to outweigh the short-term costs of recruitment. Furthermore, we found that in simulations mimicking previous experiments, the benefits of communication were considerably underestimated (at low food density) or not detected at all (at medium and high densities). Our results suggest that the benefits of waggle dance communication are currently underestimated and that different experimental designs, which account for potential long-term benefits, are needed to measure empirically how spatial information affects colony foraging success.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Motor Activity / physiology*

Grant support

RS was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant PA00P3_139731). CG was funded by a Science without Borders fellowship from the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq, Process-number: 400664/2012-7) and an Ambizione fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation (PZ00P3_142628/1). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.