News › BeeNav - Bumblebees cleverly calculate efficient routes
20 September 2012
Scientists have discovered that bumblebees have developed a remarkable ability to quickly find the most efficient route through flower patches, when foraging.
In a paper published today in PLOS Biology, scientists in the Psychology Division at Queen Mary College London, working with scientists from the Harmonic Radar Group at the world renowned Rothamsted Research have suggested that bumblebees are able to solve complex dynamic routing problems by using simple learning heuristics, a behaviour previously thought to be complex and one which only larger-brained animals were capable of.
Publication› Radar Tracking and Motion-Sensitive Cameras on Flowers Reveal the Development of Pollinator Multi-Destination Routes over Large Spatial Scales (10.1371/journal.pbio.1001392)
Related links› Biological and Experimental Psychology Group, Queen Mary University of London
› School of Biological Sciences and the Charles Perkins Centre, The University of Sydney
› School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway
› Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter
Contacts› Andy Reynolds and Jason Lim
Notes to EditorsTo keep the bees' focus on the artificial flowers, the experiments were done in October, when natural sources of nectar and pollen were scarce. To make the bees want to find all five flowers, each sucrose drop was only enough to fill one fifth of a bumblebee's crop. And to keep the bees from finding one foraging site from another visually, the flowers were arranged in a pentagon that was 50 m on each side, which is more than three times as far as bumblebees can see.
Besides shedding light on how bees develop traplines, this work suggests that small-brained animals can use simple methods to solve complex routing problems without the need for cognitive maps of spatial relationships, as has been suggested.
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