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Research GELIFES

GELIFES Seminars - Elli Leadbeater

When:Th 20-05-2021 13:00 - 14:00

Elli Leadbeater (Royal Holloway University of London)

The honeybee waggle dance

Evolutionary marvel but modern-day relic?

The honeybee (Apis mellifera) dance communication system is a marvel of collective behaviour, but the added value it brings to colony foraging efficiency is poorly understood. In temperate environments, preventing communication of foraging locations rarely decreases colony food intake, potentially because simultaneous transmission of olfactory information plays an overwhelmingly dominant role in foraging. This has led to the understanding that recruitment to food through dancing is a novel but rarely useful phenomenon outside the tropical environments where Apis evolved. Here, I will first show how social network analyses can be used to disentangle the contributions of multiple information networks to the spread of a behaviour, identifying the contexts in which dance communication truly matters amid a complex system full of redundancy. I will then show how the decoding the dance communication system can be used to quantify the resources offered to pollinators in modern-day agricultural environments that pose major conservation challenges. The honeybee waggle dance is an evolutionary marvel that is not only useful to bees, but also to those who seek to conserve both managed and wild pollinators in modern-day landscapes that are becoming increasingly barren for insect life.

I am a Professor of Ecology and Evolution at Royal Holloway University of London, where my research group works on the behaviour of social insects. Our main interests lie in studying the ecological selection pressures that underlie the evolution of behavioural traits, such as communication, and cognitive traits, such as working memory. On the more applied side, we are also very interested in the effects of land-use change on the behaviour of pollinators, particularly within the context of agrochemical exposure. My earlier career centred around behavioural ecology, starting with an MSc at Leiden University, followed by a PhD in London on working on bumblebee cognition, and postdoctoral work on the evolution of social wasps at Sussex University and the Institute of Zoology in London, before joining Royal Holloway in 2013.

Link to seminar