Copy-when-uncertain: bumblebees rely on social information when rewards are highly variable

Marco Smolla, Sylvain Alem, Lars Chittka, Susanne Shultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To understand the relative benefits of social and personal information use in foraging decisions, we developed an agent-based model of social learning that predicts social information should be more adaptive where resources are highly variable and personal information where resources vary little. We tested our predictions with bumblebees and found that foragers relied more on social information when resources were variable than when they were not. We then investigated whether socially salient cues are used preferentially over non-social ones in variable environments. Although bees clearly used social cues in highly variable environments, under the same conditions they did not use non-social cues. These results suggest that bumblebees use a 'copy-when-uncertain' strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-4
Number of pages4
JournalBiology letters
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • Bumblebees
  • Foraging
  • Resource distribution
  • Social cue
  • Social information
  • Social learning


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