Collective decision making by honey bees

Thomas Seeley (March 16, 2011)

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I will review what is known about one of the most enchanting forms of collective animal behavior: the skillful choice of a new home by a swarm of honey bees. The challenge has been to understand how the 1.5 kilograms of bees in a swarm, like the 1.5 kilograms of neurons in a brain, are organized so that even though each individual has limited information and limited intelligence, the group as a whole makes first-rate collective decisions. I will describe how this complex phenomenon has been analyzed through a combination of empirical studies (observations and experiments) and mathematical studies (simulation models). In general, the empirical studies have revealed how the bees act and interact to produce the abilities of whole swarms, and the mathematical studies have clarified why the bees behave as they do to create a reliable decision-makng system.