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Decentralised Decision-making in Social Insects
The aim of my PhD is to investigate the process of decentralised decision-making in honeybees during nest-site selection. I will place particular emphasis on the role of individuals throughout this process and determine how their individual interactions culminate in a cohesive group level action.
Nest site selection is a process that colonies of many social insect species must undertake in order to reproduce and establish new colonies. The process of nest site selection has been thoroughly investigated in the cavity nesting Western Hive bee (A. mellifera), and is now well understood. But A. mellifera is only one of at least nine recognised Apis species. In addition A. mellifera is one of the most derived honeybee species within the genus and is a cavity nesting bee, meaning that the decision being made during nest site selection must be accurate as available nest sites are limited within a given environment.
In contrast, my study species, the Asian Dwarf Honeybee (Apis florea) is one of the two most basal Apis species and creates open nests hanging from tree branches. This fundamental difference in nesting biology, as well as the basal status of the species in the genus, makes A. florea an interesting model for comparison to studies of A. mellifera. My study will provide insights into how nesting biology, open versus cavity nesting, has affected the honeybee’s nest site selection process.
I am also interested in determining how factors such as the number of individuals involved in the decision-making process influences the behaviour of the group. Particularly with reference to the speed and accuracy of the collective decision being made. To this end I will be observing different sized reproductive swarms of the European honeybees and comparing the speed and quality of nest site selection between these different swarms under same conditions.