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Adaptation or constraint? Reference-dependent scatter in honey bee dances


The waggle dance of the honey bee is used to recruit nest mates to a resource. Dancer bees, however, may indicate many directions within a single dance bout; we show that this scatter in honey bee dances is strongly dependent on the sensory modality used to determine a reference angle in the dance. Dances with a visual reference are more precise than those with a gravity reference. This finding undermines the idea that scatter is introduced into dances, which the bees could perform more precisely, in order to spread recruits out over resource patches. It also calls into question reported interspecific differences that had been interpreted as adaptations of the dance to different habitats. Our results support a non-adaptive hypothesis: that dance scatter results from sensory and performance constraints, rather than modulation of the scatter by the dancing bee. However, an alternative adaptive hypothesis cannot be ruled out.

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