Honeybees make decisions collectively--and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. In fact, as world-renowned animal behaviorist Thomas Seeley reveals, these incredible insects have much to teach us when it comes to collective wisdom and effective decision making. A remarkable and richly illustrated account of scientific discovery, Honeybee Democracy brings together, for the first time, decades of Seeley's pioneering research to tell the amazing story of house hunting and democratic debate among the honeybees.
In the late spring and early summer, as a bee colony becomes overcrowded, a third of the hive stays behind and rears a new queen, while a swarm of thousands departs with the old queen to produce a daughter colony. Seeley describes how these bees evaluate potential nest sites, advertise their discoveries to one another, engage in open deliberation, choose a final site, and navigate together--as a swirling cloud of bees--to their new home. Seeley investigates how evolution has honed the decision-making methods of honeybees over millions of years, and he considers similarities between the ways that bee swarms and primate brains process information. He concludes that what works well for bees can also work well for people: any decision-making group should consist of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect, a leader's influence should be minimized, debate should be relied upon, diverse solutions should be sought, and the majority should be counted on for a dependable resolution.
An impressive exploration of animal behavior, Honeybee Democracy shows that decision-making groups, whether honeybee or human, can be smarter than even the smartest individuals in them.
"Dr. Seeley is an engaging guide. His enthusiasm and admiration for honeybees is infectious. His accumulated research seems truly masterly, doing for bees what E.O. Wilson did for ants."--Katherine Bouton, New York Times
"Although the details are complicated, Seeley's explanations are remarkably clear. The text is abundantly illustrated with figures that are cleverly simplified in comparison to how they might appear in scientific journals. For readers who may be less passionate about the particulars of honeybee life, Seeley also reveals parallels between the way swarms make decisions and how the human brain sorts through conflicting neuron signals to reach decisions. He also provides a few pointers on how rules of honeybee democracy may be applied to decision-making in human groups, with minimal dependence on a leader, vigorous competition among a diversity of viewpoints, and a method for determining a majority-based resolution."--May Berenbaum, Times Literary Supplement
"Seeley's work--extended over years and summarized clearly and engagingly here--is a model of biological research that builds bridges to the social sciences, and to the practical arts of institutional design for humans."--Adrian Vermeule, New Republic's The Book
"[S]plendid."--John Whitfield, Nature
"[E]ngaging and fascinating. . . . Seeley writes with infectious enthusiasm. . . . Honeybee Democracy offers wonderful testament to his career of careful investigation of a remarkable natural phenomenon. The breadth and depth of the studies reported in it should inspire all students of animal behavior."--Science
"To illustrate bee decision making, Seeley details how swarms choose a new home. Seeley presents his material with charm, and the bees' system of house-hunting becomes surprising and awe-inspiring."--Science News
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Introdu ction 3
Chapter 2: Life in a Honeybee Colony 20
Chapter 3: Dream Home for Honeybees 43
Chapter 4: Scout Bees’ Debate 73
Chapter 5: A greement on Best Site 99
Chapter 6: Buildi ng a Consensus 118
Chapter 7: Initiating the Move to New Home 146
Chapter 8: Steering the Flying Swarm 175
Chapter 9: Swarm as Cognitive Entity 198
Chapter 10: Swarm Smarts 218
Illustration Credits 265
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Thomas D. Seeley: