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Undergraduate research shows leaderless honeybee organizing

Undergraduate education generally involves acquiring received knowledge in other words, absorbing the past discoveries of scholars and scientists. But University of North Carolina at Charlotte senior biology major Andrew Pierce went beyond the textbooks and uncovered something previously unknown.

Pierces discovery has to do with detecting a significant new detail concerning the behavior of the European honeybee perhaps the most studied and economically important insect on Earth. Beyond agriculture, the finding may also have key implications for understanding the dynamics of all social animals, including man.

Pierces recently reported his research in an article appearing in the behavioral biology research journal Ethology, with co-authors Lee Lewis and UNC Charlotte biology professor Stanley Schneider, Pierces mentor. Pierce was first author on the paper a rare achievement for an undergraduate.

It was a very good work and an impressive achievement for a student researcher he got a publication as an undergraduate, Schneider noted. I really like working with our undergraduate honors students they are so bright.

Pierce, age 22, has been working as a researcher in Schneiders lab for the past two years through a UNC Charlotte Honors College program that fosters research experiences for undergraduates.

Using an ingeniously designed experiment, Pierce and his co-authors were able to document details of bee social behavior that fundamentally confirm the hypothesis that major colony activities are initiated by the cumulative group actions of the colonys older workers, not by the queens individual decision.

What Pierce and colleagues found was that older workers gave signals to the queen and to the rest of the colony that it was time to swarm and leave the hive. Later, they were able to observe inside the swarm itself and see workers give the queen a signal, known as piping that tells her to fly.

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Contact: James Hathaway
jbhathaw@uncc.edu
704-687-6675
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
11-Jun-2007


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