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CogniGron Seminar Barbara Webb (University of Edinburgh): "The neural basis of the honey bee dance language"

When:Tu 30-04-2024 11:00 - 12:00
Where:Bernoulliborg 5161.0165 (Nijenborgh 9, Groningen)

Honey bees are famous for their ability to communicate the location of food to their nest mates by dancing on the honeycomb. Using a mixture of behavioural, neural and computational modelling approaches, we have shown how their brain circuits, in particular the central complex, which allows them to track location relative to the hive (path integration) and control straight line flight back home. We have also suggested how the food location could be stored and used in interaction with path integration to return directly to the food on subsequent foraging trips.

Most recently, we have proposed how this vector memory could be re-expressed in the dance behaviour, transforming a flight vector relative to celestial cues into a waggle trajectory relative to gravity on the vertical honeycomb. By recording the antennal positions of bees following the dance, we have discovered how they detect their relative angle to the dancer, and have extended our model of the central complex to explain how followers could thereby acquire the vector that the dancer is signalling. This provides the first plausible account of how honey bees are able to intepret the dance.

Barbara Webb
About Barbara Webb

Barbara Webb obtained a BSc in Psychology at the University of Sydney followed by a PhD in Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh. She held faculty positions in the University of Nottingham and University of Stirling before returning to the University of Edinburgh where she is now Professor of Biorobotics in the School of Informatics. Her research on insect-inspired robots has been highly influential, including invited reviews in Nature and Science presenting the approach. She was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.