Searching for a new home—scouting behavior of honeybee swarms

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Honeybee scouting, where individual bees search the environment without prior information about the possible location of food sources or nest sites, is notoriously difficult to study. Yet, understanding scouting behavior is important as it provides insights into how social insects trade-off exploitation with exploration. The use of simulation models is an ideal way to investigate the possible mechanisms behind the regulation of scouting at the group level as well as the ways in which the swarm searches its environment. We used an individual-based simulation model to study the scouting behavior of honeybee swarms. In our model, we implemented a simple decision rule that regulates the number of scouts: individual bees first attempt to find a dance to follow but become scouts if they fail to do so. We show that this rule neatly allows the swarm to adjust the number of scouts depending on the quality of the nest sites known to the swarm. We further explored different search strategies that allow the swarm to select good-quality nest sites independent of their distance from the swarm. Assuming that it is costly to move to a site that is far away, the best search strategy would be to give precedence to nearby sites while still allowing the discovery of better sites at distances farther away.

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