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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.

Pierce’s 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.

Pierce’s 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, Pierce’s 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 Schneider’s 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 colony’s older workers, not by the queen’s 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 t
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Source:University of North Carolina at Charlotte


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