Bees do not use nearest-neighbour rules for optimization of multi-location routes

Mathieu Lihoreau, Lars Chittka, Steven Le Comber, Nigel E. Raine

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Animals collecting patchily distributed resources are faced withcomplexmulti-location routing problems. Rather than comparing all possible routes, they often find reasonably short solutions by simply moving to the nearest unvisited resources when foraging. Here, we report the travel optimization performance of bumble-bees (Bombus terrestris) foraging in a flight cage containing six artificial flowers arranged such that movements between nearest-neighbour locations would lead to a long suboptimal route. After extensive training (80 foraging bouts and at least 640 flower visits), bees reduced their flight distances and prioritized shortest possible routes,whilealmost never following
nearest-neighbour solutions. We discuss possible strategies used during the establishment of stable multi-location routes (or traplines), and how these could allow bees and other animals to solve complex routing problems through experience, without necessarily requiring a sophisticated cognitive representation of space.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberdoi:10.1098/rsbl.2011.0661
Pages (from-to)13-16
Number of pages4
JournalBiology Letters
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Bombus terrestris
  • foraging routes
  • pollination ecology
  • spatial cognition
  • trapline foraging
  • travel optimization

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