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The Role of the Vibration Signal during Nest-Site Selection by Honey Bee Swarms


S. S. Schneider, Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, NC 28223, USA.


The vibration signal may influence nest-site selection by honey bee swarms by enhancing scouting and recruitment. We investigated this hypothesis by comparing (1) the number of nest sites and the distances communicated by nest-site dancers on swarms from which vibrators were and were not removed and (2) the behavior of scouts visiting higher-quality (HQ) and lower-quality (LQ) nest boxes. The removal of vibrators from swarms did not alter the number of nest sites investigated, the distances traveled to nest sites, or the time required to select a new nest cavity. In contrast, vibrator removal tripled the time required for swarms to achieve liftoff after a cavity had been selected, although all swarm eventually became airborne and moved to a new site. About 14% of the scouts that visited the HQ and LQ nest boxes performed vibration signals; however, nest-box quality did not influence the tendency to produce the signal or intermix vibration signals and recruitment dances. However, we did find a significant, positive correlation between overall levels of vibration signal activity and nest-site recruitment during the house-hunting process. When viewed in concert, our results suggest that the vibration signal contributes to the house-hunting process by operating in a non-specific manner that may enhance scouting and recruitment in general during nest-site selection and facilitate rapid swarm liftoff after a new nest site has been chosen. The vibration signal is therefore a component in the cascade of communication signals that orchestrate house-hunting and colony relocation decisions.