What makes a honeybee scout?

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A honeybee colony needs to divide its workforce so that each of the many tasks it performs has an appropriate number of workers assigned to it. This task allocation system needs to be flexible enough to allow the colony to quickly adapt to an ever-changing environment. In this study, we examined possible mechanisms by which a honeybee colony regulates the division of labor between scouts (foragers that search for new food sources without having been guided to them) and recruits (foragers that were guided via recruitment dances toward food sources). Specifically, we examined the roles that the availability of recruitment dances and worker genotype has in the colony-level regulation of the number of workers engaged in scouting. Our approach was threefold. We first developed a mathematical model to demonstrate that the decision to become a scout or a recruit could be regulated by whether a potential forager can find a recruitment dance within a certain time period. We then tested this model by investigating the effect of dance availability on the regulation of scouts in the field. Lastly, we investigated if the probability of being a scout has a genetic basis. Our field data supported the hypothesis that scouts are those foragers that have failed to locate a recruitment dance as predicted by our model, but we found no effect of genotype on the propensity of foragers to become scouts.

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