Thomas Seeley

Thomas Seeley
Cornell University | CU · Department of Neurobiology and Behavior

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182
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Publications

Publications (182)
Article
Thomas Seeley's research has focused on analyzing the collective intelligence and natural lives of honey bees. This account describes how the author encountered honey bees as a boy and became a beekeeper; how he switched his career path from medicine to biology to study the behavior and social life of honey bees; and how he focuses on understanding...
Article
The populations of wild honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies in the USA were decimated after the arrival of a parasitic mite Varroa destructor in the 1980s. However, in some places, wild honey bee colonies survived. In this 3-year study, we analyzed 32 wild and 11 managed colonies in Southwestern Pennsylvania for their maternal genetic ancestries an...
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Wild honey bee colonies—both truly wild (in trees and buildings) and simulated wild (in small hives)—were studied to determine their life-history traits, to see if these traits have changed now that these colonies are infested with Varroa destructor. Most colonies (97%) survive summers, but only 23% of founder (first-year) colonies and 84% of estab...
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Varroa destructor, the introduced parasite of European honey bees associated with massive colony deaths, spreads readily through populations of honey bee colonies, both managed colonies living crowded together in apiaries and wild colonies living widely dispersed in natural settings. Mites are hypothesized to spread between most managed colonies vi...
Article
Sociometry is the description and analysis of the physical and numerical attributes of social insect colonies over their lifetimes. Sociometric data, such as worker number and nest size are essential for understanding how colonies develop but are rarely collected. Even Apis mellifera, the most intensively studied social insect, has never received a...
Article
This study investigated how a honey bee colony develops and quenches its collective thirst when it experiences hyperthermia of its broodnest. We found that a colony must strongly boost its water intake because evaporative cooling is critical to relieving broodnest hyperthermia, and that it must rapidly boost its water intake because a colony mainta...
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Full-text available
The ectoparasitic mite, Varroa destructor, and the viruses that it transmits, kill the colonies of European honey bees (Apis mellifera) kept by beekeepers unless the bees are treated with miticides. Nevertheless, there exist populations of wild colonies of European honey bees that are persisting without being treated with miticides. We hypothesized...
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Understanding genetic changes caused by novel pathogens and parasites can reveal mechanisms of adaptation and genetic robustness. Using whole-genome sequencing of museum and modern specimens, we describe the genomic changes in a wild population of honey bees in North America following the introduction of the ectoparasitic mite, Varroa destructor. E...
Data
Supplementary Figures 1-5, Supplementary Tables 1-3 and Supplementary References
Article
Organisms face the challenge of optimally allocating limited resources among investments that promote survival, growth or reproduction. In species whose members build complex nests, this resource allocation problem also applies to the building and use of the nest structure, a critical part of an individual's extended phenotype. Honeybee colonies fa...
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It is difficult to overstate the value of images in science. Visualization is often the most effective tool to convey scientific concepts, and the opportunities that come with imaging techniques are growing. Nevertheless, we noticed that recent articles in animal behaviour journals include few images of animals or behaviour. To see whether their nu...
Article
When humans switched from hunting honeybee colonies living scattered in the wild to keeping them in hives crowded in apiaries, they may have greatly increased disease transmission between colonies. The effects of clustering colonies were studied. Two groups of 12 colonies, with hives crowded or dispersed, were established in a common environment an...
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Across their introduced range in North America, populations of feral honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies have supposedly declined in recent decades as a result of exotic parasites, most notably the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor. Nonetheless, recent studies have documented several wild populations of colonies that have persisted. The extre...
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Full-text available
There is a widespread belief that wild colonies of European honeybees have been eradicated in Europe and North America, killed by viruses spread by the introduced ectoparasitic mite, Varroa destructor. In reality, however, several populations of wild colonies of honeybees in Europe and North America are persisting despite exposure to Varroa. To hel...
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Individual differences in behaviour are often consistent across time and contexts, but it is not clear whether such consistency is reflected at the molecular level. We explored this issue by studying scouting in honeybees in two different behavioural and ecological contexts: finding new sources of floral food resources and finding a new nest site....
Article
Social insect colonies, like individual organisms, must decide as they develop how to allocate optimally their resources among survival, growth, and reproduction. Only when colonies reach a certain state do they switch from investing purely in survival and growth to investing also in reproduction. But how do worker bees within a colony detect that...
Chapter
Gagnon: How do you define democracy?
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Full-text available
In most species of social insects, when a queen departs from her parental nest to found a new colony, she leaves on her own. In some species, however, the departing queen leaves accompanied by a portion of the parental colony’s workers and there is a permanent fissioning of the worker force. Little is known about how the adult workers in colonies o...
Article
In the beeswax combs of honey bees, the cells of brood, pollen, and honey have a consistent spatial pattern that is sustained throughout the life of a colony. This spatial pattern is believed to emerge from simple behavioral rules that specify how the queen moves, where foragers deposit honey/pollen and how honey/pollen is consumed from cells. Prio...
Article
We explored the worker-level interactions that enhance the organization of foraging in honey bee colonies with extremely polyandrous queens by determining whether a colony’s patriline number affects the activity of its inspectors (foragers who visit a previously utilized food source to see if it is profitable again). We monitored the use of sucrose...
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Kin selection theory predicts that in colonies of social Hymenoptera with multiply mated queens, workers should mutually inhibit ("police") worker reproduction, but that in colonies with singly mated queens, workers should favor rearing workers' sons instead of queens' sons. In line with these predictions, Mattila et al. (Curr Biol 22:2027-2031, 20...
Article
Of the many signals used by honey bees during the process of swarming, two of them-the stop signal and the worker piping signal-are not easily distinguished for both are mechano-acoustic signals produced by scout bees who press their bodies against other bees while vibrating their wing muscles. To clarify the acoustic differences between these two...
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During colony founding in honey bees, a portion of a colony’s workforce (the “swarm fraction”) departs with the old mother queen in a swarm while the remaining workforce stays with a new daughter queen in the parental nest. There is little quantitative information about swarm fraction size and about how swarm fraction size affects the growth and su...
Conference Paper
Background/Question/Methods Storage of honey, pollen and developing brood each occur in predictable regions of comb in any hive of Western honey bees (apis mellifera), and this cell allocation pattern is sustained throughout the life of each hive. It may be the case that no member of the hive has a global or even local blueprint for the observed...
Article
Throughout his writings about how honeybees communicate with dances, Karl von Frisch described two types of recruitment dance: the round dance, which supposedly indicates the presence of a food source somewhere near the hive, and the waggle dance, which indicates the distance and direction of a food source more than 100 m from the hive. The view th...
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Little is known about the molecular basis of differences in behavior among individuals. Here we report consistent novelty-seeking behavior, across different contexts, among honey bees in their tendency to scout for food sources and nest sites, and we reveal some of the molecular underpinnings of this behavior relative to foragers that do not scout....
Chapter
The waggle dance of the honey bee is one of the most extensively studied forms of animal communication, but only recently have investigators closely examined its adaptive significance, that is, how it improves the foraging efficiency of a honey bee colony. Studies at the colony level, in which investigators have compared the effectiveness of food c...
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Social animals can obtain valuable information from group members, but sometimes experience conflicts between this social information and personal information obtained through their own experience. Experienced honey bee foragers (Apis mellifera) have personal information about familiar food sources, and can also obtain social information by followi...
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Honeybee swarms and complex brains show many parallels in how they make decisions. In both, separate populations of units (bees or neurons) integrate noisy evidence for alternatives, and, when one population exceeds a threshold, the alternative it represents is chosen. We show that a key feature of a brain--cross inhibition between the evidence-acc...
Article
Speed-accuracy tradeoffs are a common feature of decision-making processes, both in individual animals and in groups of animals working together to reach a single collective decision. Individual organisms display consistent differences in their “impulsivity,” and vary in their tendency to make rapid, impulsive choices as opposed to slower, more acc...
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We tested the idea that Varroa destructor can be controlled in colonies of the European subspecies of Apis mellifera by providing them with combs built of small cells, in which immature mites might have difficulty developing for lack of space. We established seven pairs of equal-size colonies that started out equally infested with mites. In each pa...
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Shifts in work schedules test humans’ capacity to be flexible in the timing of both work and sleep. Honeybee, Apis mellifera, foragers also shift their work schedules, but how flexible they are in the timing of sleep as they shift the timing of work is unknown, despite the importance of colony-level plasticity in the face of a changing environment....
Article
Recent studies indicate that the foraging success of a honeybee colony is enhanced when it has numerous genetically diverse patrilines because of queen polyandry. We determined whether foraging is improved in part because patriline diversity generates more responsive populations of scouting foragers. Scouts search for new food sources and advertise...
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Personality differences (i.e. consistent between-individual differences in behaviour) play an important role in the lives of humans and other animals, influencing both their day-to-day actions and their long-term reproductive success. For organisms living in highly structured groups of related individuals, such as colonies of social insects, person...
Article
Arising from M. A. Nowak, C. E. Tarnita & E. O. Wilson 466, 1057-1062 (2010); Nowak et al. reply. Hamilton described a selective process in which individuals affect kin (kin selection), developed a novel modelling strategy for it (inclusive fitness), and derived a rule to describe it (Hamilton's rule). Nowak et al. assert that inclusive fitness is...
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Full-text available
Honey bee queens (Apis mellifera) who mate with multiple males produce colonies that are filled with numerous genetically distinct patrilines of workers. A genetically diverse colony benefits from an enhanced foraging effort, fuelled in part by an increase in the number of recruitment signals that are produced by foragers. However, the influence of...
Conference Paper
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In cavity-nesting animals, competition for suitable cavities can be particularly strong when multiple groups of the same species migrate synchronously to found a new home. This may be the case for honey bees during the reproductive season, because neighboring colonies often cast swarms simultaneously, leading to potential competition for high-quali...
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Sleep is essential for basic survival, and insufficient sleep leads to a variety of dysfunctions. In humans, one of the most profound consequences of sleep deprivation is imprecise or irrational communication, demonstrated by degradation in signaling as well as in receiving information. Communication in nonhuman animals may suffer analogous degrada...
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Animals that travel in groups must synchronize the timing of their departures to assure cohesion of the group. While most activities in large colonies of social insects have decentralized control, certain activities (e.g., colony migration) can have centralized control, with only a special subset of well-informed individuals making a decision that...
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One of the most conspicuous activities of worker bees inside a hive is the shaking of other workers. This shaking has long been suspected to be a communication behavior, but its information content and function have until recently remained mysterious. Prior studies of the colony-level patterns of the production of the shaking signal suggest strongl...
Article
Recently Seeley (1982) claimed that bees working inside the hive exhibit three age castes: cell cleaning, brood care, and food storage. In a subsequent paper, Kolmes (1985) stated that “honey bees do not appear to pass through a temporal sequence of tasks while performing hive duties” and that previous findings of this age polyethism are due to sub...
Article
Cavity-nesting animals must often defend their homes against intruders, especially when the availability of suitable cavities is limited. Competition for nest sites is particularly strong when multiple groups of the same species migrate synchronously to found a new home. This may be the case for honey bees during the reproductive season, because ne...
Article
Honeybees present a paradox that is unusual among the social Hymenoptera: extremely promiscuous queens generate colonies of nonreproducing workers who cooperate to rear reproductives with whom they share limited kinship. Extreme polyandry, which lowers relatedness but creates within-colony genetic diversity, produces substantial fitness benefits fo...
Conference Paper
In my talk, I will review how, over the past decade, I've finally gotten close to solving the puzzle that I tackled for my PhD thesis project, some 35 years ago. Specifically, I will discuss the means by which a group of house-hunting bees pool their knowledge about multiple candidate nest sites, conduct a frank debate about these options, execute...
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Most species of social insects have singly mated queens, but in some species each queen mates with numerous males to create a colony whose workers belong to multiple patrilines. This colony genetic structure creates a potential for intracolonial nepotism. One context with great potential for such nepotism arises in species, like honey bees, whose c...
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Condorcet's jury theorem shows that when the members of a group have noisy but independent information about what is best for the group as a whole, majority decisions tend to outperform dictatorial ones. When voting is supplemented by communication, however, the resulting interdependencies between decision makers can strengthen or undermine this ef...
Article
This study investigates the first stage of the decision-making process of a honeybee swarm as it chooses a nest site: how a scout bee codes the value of a potential nest site in the waggle dances she produces to represent this site. We presented honeybee swarms with a two-alternative choice between a high-value site and a medium-value site and reco...
Article
Prime mover in behavioural physiology and sociobiology.
Article
Animals that travel in groups must synchronize the timing of impending departures to ensure group cohesion. The mechanisms used by a honeybee, Apis mellifera, colony to organize the departure of a swarm from its nest remain a mystery. We examined the signals that trigger a swarm's explosive exodus from the parental nest, and we documented the concu...
Conference Paper
The timing of departures in group-living animals must be synchronized to assure group cohesion. The mechanisms used by a honey bee colony to organize the departure of a swarm from its nest remain a mystery. We examined the signals and signalers that trigger a swarms exodus, and we documented the concurrent changes in bee density, mobility, and nest...
Article
Full-text available
When a honeybee swarm takes off to fly to its new home site, less than 5% of the bees in the swarm have visited the site and thereby know in what direction the swarm must fly. How does the small minority of informed bees indicate the swarm's flight direction to the large majority of uninformed bees? Previous simulation studies have suggested two po...
Article
Full-text available
Sleep is a dynamic phenomenon that changes throughout an organism's lifetime, relating to possible age- or task-associated changes in health, learning ability, vigilance and fitness. Sleep has been identified experimentally in many animals, including honey bees (Apis mellifera). As worker bees age they change castes, typically performing a sequence...
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We synthesize findings from neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral biology to show that some key features of cognition in the neuron-based brains of vertebrates are also present in the insect-based swarm of honey bees. We present our ideas in the context of the cognitive task of nest-site selection by honey bee swarms. After reviewing the mechani...
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Results from a previous study, known as the ‘Lake Experiment’ (Gould & Gould 1982, Animal Minde Human Mind, Berlin, Springer-Verlag, 269e298), suggest that honeybee, Apis mellifera, foragers may assess the locations advertised by the waggle dances that they follow and reject dances for ‘implausible’ locations that are unlikely to yield food. Howeve...
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Recent work has demonstrated considerable benefits of intracolonial genetic diversity for the productivity of honeybee colonies: single-patriline colonies have depressed foraging rates, smaller food stores and slower weight gain relative to multiple-patriline colonies. We explored whether differences in the use of foraging-related communication beh...
Article
The honeybee, Apis mellifera, dance language, used to communicate the location of profitable food resources, is one of the most versatile forms of nonprimate communication. Karl von Frisch described this communication system in terms of two distinct dances: (1) the round dance, which indicates the presence of a desirable food source close to the hi...
Article
1. The adaptive significance of the timing of growth and reproduction by honeybee, Apis mellifera L., colonies in cold climates was studied by describing the seasonal patterns of food storage, brood rearing, and swarming, and then observing the consequences of experimentally perturbing the seasonal cycles of brood rearing and swarming.2. Colonies c...
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The explosive take-off of a honeybee swarm when it moves to its new home is a striking example of an animal group performing a synchronized departure for a new location. Prior work has shown that the nest-site scouts in a swarm prime the other bees for flight by producing piping signals that stimulate all the bees to warm up their wing muscles in p...
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Honey bee queens mate with many males, creating numerous patrilines within colonies that are genetically distinct. The effects of genetic diversity on colony productivity and long-term fitness are unknown. We show that swarms from genetically diverse colonies (15 patrilines per colony) founded new colonies faster than swarms from genetically unifor...
Article
A swarm of honeybees provides a striking example of an animal group performing a synchronized departure for a new location; in this case, thousands of bees taking off at once to fly to a new home. However, the means by which this is achieved remain unclear. Shortly before takeoff, one hears a crescendo of a high-pitched mechanical signal—worker pip...
Article
Full-text available
Most species of social insects have singly mated queens, but in some species each queen mates with numerous males to create a colony with a genetically diverse worker force. The adaptive significance of polyandry by social insect queens remains an evolutionary puzzle. Using the honeybee (Apis mellifera), we tested the hypothesis that polyandry impr...
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Feral colonies of European honey bees living in the Arnot Forest, a 1651-ha research preserve in New York State, were studied over a three-year period, 2002 to 2005. This population of colonies was previously censused in 1978. A census in 2002 revealed as many colonies as before, even though Varroa destructor was introduced to North America in the...
Article
Honey bees (Apis mellifera Linnaeus 1758) use a complex dance behaviour that encodes the distance and direction to profitable food sources, but these dances do not contain precise directional information for nearby (<700 m) food sources. The reason for this imprecision has been the subject of recent debate. Some have suggested that imprecision with...
Article
An experiment was performed to see if plastic comb foundation affects a colony's comb building and honey production. Small colonies were installed in hives equipped with one of three types of frame with foundation - wooden frame with beeswax foundation, wooden frame with plastic foundation, and plastic frame with plastic foundation - and their patt...
Article
Resin is an important building material in the nests of honeybees, but little is known about how it is handled within the nest and how its collection is controlled. We studied the functional organization of resin work to better understand how a colony adaptively controls its intake of resin. Two hypotheses have been proposed for how resin collector...
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We studied the relationship between genetic diversity and disease susceptibility in honeybee colonies living under natural conditions. To do so, we created colonies in which each queen was artificially inseminated with sperm from either one or ten drones. Of the 20 colonies studied, 80% showed at least one brood disease. We found strong differences...
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When a honeybee swarm lifts off to fly to a new nest site, only the scouts know in what direction the swarm must fly, and they constitute only about 5% of the bees in a swarm. Nevertheless, a swarm will fly quickly and directly to its destination. How does the small minority of informed scouts indicate the swarm's flight direction to the large majo...
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T he problem of social choice has chal- lenged social philosophers and po- litical scientists for centuries. The fun- damental decision-making dilemma for groups is how to turn individual preferences for different outcomes into a single choice for the group as a whole. This problem has been studied mainly with respect to human groups, which have de...
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Nest-site selection in honeybees is a process of social decision making in which the scout bees in a swarm locate several potential nest sites, evaluate them, and select the best one by means of competitive signaling. We develop a model of this process and validate that the model possesses the key features of the bees' decision-making process, as r...
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In recent years, plastic comb foundation has become widely used by beekeepers but it has not been studied to see if it hinders recruitment communication by reducing the transmission of the comb vibrations produced by bees performing waggle dances. We used laser vibrometry to compare combs built with beeswax foundation vs. plastic foundation in term...
Article
For over 40 yr, investigators have recognized that the brief piping signal plays a role in the foraging operation of a honey bee colony. The function of this signal, however, remains uncertain. The main objective of this study was to determine whether, under normal foraging conditions, bees following waggle dancers produce brief piping signals to b...
Article
We studied the extent to which worker honey bees acquire information from waggle dances throughout their careers as foragers. Small groups of foragers were monitored from time of orientation flights to time of death and all in-hive behaviors relating to foraging were recorded. In the context of a novice forager finding her first food source, 60% of...
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This paper considers a little-studied topic in the biology of social insects: the formation of self-assemblages. It focuses on the mechanisms whereby the outermost workers in a bivouacked swarm of honey bees, when rained upon, form a water repellent curtain of bees over the swarm cluster. Specifically, we analyzed how the worker bees in the mantle...
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This study addresses a question about the nest-site selection process of honeybee swarms: how do the scout bees know when to initiate the preparation for their swarms move to their new home? We tested the quorum-sensing hypothesis: that the scouts do this by noting when one of the potential nest sites under consideration is being visited by a suffi...
Article
The extended phenotype of a social insect colony enables selection to act at both the individual level (within-colony selection) and the colony level (between-colony selection). Whether a particular trait persists over time depends on the relative within- and between-colony selection pressures. Queen replacement in honey bee colonies exemplifies ho...
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In recent years, renewed attention has been paid to the mechanisms of group decision making that underlie the nest-site selection process in honey bees. We review the results of these new investigations by discussing how the recent work builds on the earlier descriptive studies of this decision-making process, how the decision-making abilities of s...