summary: The bee’s “waggle dance,” a complex series of movements that indicate the location of important resources to other bees, is improved through social learning and can be transmitted culturally.
source: University of California, San Francisco
The transmission of shared knowledge from one generation to the next is a defining feature of culture and allows animals to quickly adapt to a changing environment.
While it is widely evident in species ranging from infants to naked mole-rats or fledgling songbirds, early social learning has now been documented in insects.
Publication in the journal SciencesThe UC San Diego researcher and colleagues uncover evidence that social learning is essential for honey bees. Professor James Nieh of the School of Biological Sciences and his collaborators discovered that the ‘shake dance’, which signals the location of important resources to nest members through a complex series of movements, is enhanced by learning and can be transmitted culturally.
The study demonstrates the importance of early social cue learning in one of the most complex known examples of non-human spatial reference communication.
“We are beginning to understand that, like us, animals can transmit information important to their survival through communities and families. Our new research shows that we can now extend this social learning to insects,” said Nie, professor in the Department of Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution.
A social insect with a highly organized community structure, honey bees help ensure the survival of their colonies by communicating the location of food sources to each other through a rocking dance in which the bees circle in figure-eight patterns while shaking their bodies during the midsection. part of the dance.
Performed at breakneck speed (each bee moves the length of the body in less than one second), the movements within the dance translate visual information from the environment around the hive and the position of the sun into distance, direction, and even resource quality for nestmates.
Accurately conveying this information is a remarkable feat because bees must move quickly across the often uneven surface of a honeycomb hive.
Nie and fellow researchers Shihao Dong, Tao Lin and Qin Tan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences conducted experiments to test the details involved in vibrating dance communication. They set up colonies to study the information transfer process between skilled foraging bees and their younger, less experienced mates.
The experimenters created colonies in which the bees were unable to observe or follow the jerky dancers before they danced for the first time. These colonies consist of young bees that were the same age. The bees begin to dance when they reach the appropriate age and always follow the experienced dancers before their first attempt at dancing. In these experimental colonies, the bees were unable to learn from the more experienced dancers.
“Bees that had no opportunity to follow any dancers before they first danced produced significantly more turbulent dances with greater vibration angle divergence errors and incorrectly encoded distance,” the researchers noted in the paper.
In contrast, bees that shaded other dances in control colonies had no such problems. Like humans, where early exposure to language development is essential, bees acquired encoded social cues that stayed with them for life (about 38 days). Those who did not learn the correct shake dance early on were able to improve by watching other dancers later and through training, but they were never able to correctly encode the distance.
This distance coding creates distinct “accents” for different honey bee species. In other words, the bees who could never observe the other dancers during the critical early stage of learning developed a new accent that they kept for the rest of their lives.
Scientists believe that bees’ accents are shaped by their local environments. If that’s the case, then it makes sense for the colony to convey a dialect well adapted to this environment,” Nieh said. The results therefore provided evidence that social learning shapes honeybee signaling as does early communication in many vertebrate species that also benefit from learning.
With their new findings, Nieh and his colleagues now want to understand the role of the environment in shaping bee language. In the future, they would like to see if older, more experienced bees in the colony that know the distribution of food sources within their environment might be able to pass on improved tone to the next generation.
They also worry that external threats can disrupt this early language learning. Multiple studies, including one by Nih and his collaborators, have shown the harm common pesticides can do to bees.
“We know that bees are very smart and have the ability to do amazing things,” said Nie. “Many papers and studies have shown that pesticides can harm the cognition and learning of honey bees, and therefore pesticides may harm their ability to learn how to communicate and possibly even reshape how that communication is passed on to the next generation of bees in the colony.”
About this social learning research news
author: Mario Aguilera
source: University of California, San Francisco
communication: Mario Aguilera – University of California
picture: Image credited to Heather Brochard-Bell
Original search: Results will appear in Sciences
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