Continuous Radar Tracking Illustrates the Development of Multi-destination Routes of Bumblebees.
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Animals that visit multiple foraging sites face a problem, analogous to the Travelling Salesman Problem, of finding an efficient route. We explored bumblebees' route development on an array of five artificial flowers in which minimising travel distances between individual feeders conflicted with minimising overall distance. No previous study of bee spatial navigation has been able to follow animals' movement during learning; we tracked bumblebee foragers continuously, using harmonic radar, and examined the process of route formation in detail for a small number of selected individuals. On our array, bees did not settle on visit sequences that gave the shortest overall path, but prioritised movements to nearby feeders. Nonetheless, flight distance and duration reduced with experience. This increased efficiency was attributable mainly to experienced bees reducing exploration beyond the feeder array and flights becoming straighter with experience, rather than improvements in the sequence of feeder visits. Flight paths of all legs of a flight stabilised at similar rates, whereas the first few feeder visits became fixed early while bees continued to experiment with the order of later visits. Stabilising early sections of a route and prioritising travel between nearby destinations may reduce the search space, allowing rapid adoption of efficient routes.
AuthorsWoodgate, JL; Makinson, JC; Lim, KS; Reynolds, AM; Chittka, L
- Psychology