Evolution of the honeybee waggle dance

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Elli Leadbeater

School of Biological Sciences, RHUL

Elli Leadbeater's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Vincent Jansen

School of Biological Sciences, RHUL

Vincent Jansen's Profile Picture

Project Description:

The honeybee waggle dance is among the most sophisticated communication systems in the animal kingdom, but we still do not understand why it has failed to evolve in even a single other social insect. What were the ecological circumstances that drove the evolution of this unique behaviour? One way to approach this question is to identify landscapes in which dance-based recruitment leaves a detectable imprint on colony foraging patterns, relative to an individual search-based strategy. We have recently developed a novel method that can do this, by comparing the distribution of real forage sites visited by the colony to a pre-existing simulation model. Here, we will use this approach to explore how the importance of dance communication varies across resource-rich and resource-poor environments. The work will involve extensive summer fieldwork with honeybees to record colony foraging patterns by decoding waggle dances, carried out within our parkland-based campus (and potentially also across a network of sites across SE England). We hypothesize that dance communication may have the greatest impact on colony foraging patterns in rich, diverse environments, while individual search may dominate when resources are sparse.

The project is suitable for a student who has both a love of ecology fieldwork and proficiency with programming in R. Experience with Python would be very advantageous. Previous experience of empirical work with live animals is important, as are the communication skills necessary to form links with landowners and the beekeeping network. This is a project that will likely involve considerable outreach opportunities.

Policy Impact of Research:

Honeybees are extraordinarily important pollinators of flowering plants, from mass-flowering crops to vulnerable natives. This project will explore how colonies distribute their workforce across vast and diverse foraging ranges.

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