Group Grüter

Individual & Collective Behavior in Insect Societies


Our group investigates the organisation and coordination of collective activities in insect societies. We study the behaviour of individual workers, their decision-making strategies and the link between individual decision rules and collective behavioural patterns. Our main model systems are the honey bee Apis mellifera, the stingless bee Tetragonisca angustula and the two ant species Lasius niger and Temnothorax nylanderi. We combine behavioural experiments, genomics and agent-based simulation modeling in our research.

1. Information-use strategies in ants and honeybees: from individual to collective behaviour

In many social insect species, workers communicate the location of profitable food sources or nest-sites to their nest-mates. Honeybee foragers, for example, use the famous waggle dance to advertise profitable resources. Foragers of many ant and some bee species lay pheromone trails. However, under some circumstances searching independently (scouting) or relying on past experiences (personal information) might be a more successful strategy. We study the ecological circumstances that favour different information-use strategies and try to understand how individual decisions lead to collective behavioural patterns. Furthermore, we try to find out which genes affect information-use strategies.

Representative papers:

Grüter C and Leadbeater E (2014) Insights from insects about adaptive social information use. Trends Ecol. Evol. 29:177-184.

Grüter C, Czaczkes TJ and Ratnieks FLW (2011) Decision-making in ant foragers (Lasius niger) facing conflicting private and social information. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 65:141-148.

Grüter C, Balbuena MS and Farina WM (2008) Informational conflicts created by the waggle dance. Proc. R. Soc. B 275:1321-1327.

2. Colony organisation and division of labour in stingless bees (Meliponini)

Division of labour is important for the ecological success of social insects. In most species, workers perform different tasks at different ages (temporal caste systems). For example, foraging is often performed by older workers. In some species, however, workers are morphologically specialised for particular tasks (physical caste systems). While division of labour has been extensively studied in honey bees and ants, little is known about colony organisation and division of labour in the largest group of highly eusocial bees, the stingless bees (Meliponini). Stingless bees show diverse life-histories, including both temporal and physical caste systems. We try to understand the costs and benefits associated with different types division of labour.

Representative papers:

Segers FHID, von Zuben L and Grüter C (2016) Local differences in parasitism and competition shape defensive investment in a polymorphic eusocial bee. Ecology, 97, 417-426.

Hammel B, Vollet-Neto A, Menezes C, Nascimento FS, Engels W and Grüter C (2016) Soldiers in a stingless bee: work rate and task repertoire suggest they are an elite force. American Naturalist, 187, 120-129.

Grüter C, Menezes C, Imperatriz-Fonseca V and Ratnieks FLW (2012) A morphologically specialised soldier caste improves colony defense in a Neotropical eusocial bee. PNAS, 109, 1182-1186. (*co-first author)

Here you find more photos about our work.


Group leader:

PhD students:

  • Tianfei Peng
  • Simone Glaser
  • Anissa Kennedy (co-supervised by Prof. Susanne Foitzik)

Master students:

  • Anna-Maria Pfeiffer (Title: Recruitment behaviour in Tetramorium ants, co-supervised with Dr. Romain Libbrecht)

Bachelor students:

  • Ebru Fetzer (Condition dependent nest marking in the ant Temnothorax nylanderi)
  • Jennifer Brauer (Effect of reduced tandem communication on colony foraging success in the ant Temnothorax nylanderi)
  • Evgenia Tsantili (Effect of reduced tandem communication on individual foraging success in the ant Temnothorax nylanderi)
  • Lea Maus (Do octopamine (OA) and dopamine (DA) titres correlate with OA and DA receptor gene expression and foraging experience in honeybees?)
  • Dennis Derstroff (Do octopamine (OA) and dopamine (DA) receptor gene expression correlate with foraging activity in honeybees?)
  • Semi Brami (Does foraging experience/age affect the reliance on social and private information in honeybee foragers?)