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James Nieh


Research in the Nieh lab focuses on the evolution of foraging communication and behavior in the social bees and on honey bee health. There are five different topic areas detailed below. For further information, please view the Nieh Lab Homepage.

figure 1

Evolution of communication

Social bees have evolved complex methods of communicating to recruit nestmates for resources. Our lab studies multiple bee groups: honey bees, stingless bees, and bumble bees to learn how this communication works and how it may have evolved.

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Honey Bee health

Concern is growing over pollinator declines. Our lab examines the effects of pesticides on honey bee health, focusing on how neonicotinoid pesticides such as imidacloprid affect foraging and orientation.

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Superorganism inhibitory communication

What happens if conditions change and the communicated food source becomes depleted, contested, or dangerous? The honey bee stop signal provides negative feedback that counteracts the positive feedback of honey bee waggle dances. Using field studies and mathematical models, we are studying this signal in detail and exploring conditions under which negative feedback signals may evolve.

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Olfactory eavesdropping and competition

What selective pressures have shaped bee recruitment communication? We study chemical espionage in stingless bees and the role this may have played in the evolution of potential "counter-espionage" strategies such as encoded communication inside the nest.

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Neuroethology of bee learning and memory

Despite their small brain size and limited number of neurons relative to the central nervous systems of many vertebrates, social insects have evolved sophisticated learning and memory abilities and are therefore important models for animal cognition.


James Nieh - Full Publication list
  • Li, J., Wang, Z., Tan, K., Qu, Y., and Nieh JC (2014) Effects of natural and synthetic alarm pheromone and individual pheromone components on foraging behavior of the giant Asian honey bee, Apis dorsata. Journal of Experimental Biology. 217:3512-3518.
  • Li, J., Wang, Z., Qu, Y., and Nieh J.C. (2014) Giant Asian honey bees use olfactory eavesdropping to detect and avoid ant predators. Animal Behaviour. 97:69-76.
  • Tan, K., Chen, W., Dong, S., Liu, X., Wang, Y., and *Nieh. J.C*. (2014) Imidacloprid alters foraging and increases risky behavior in bees. */PLOS One/* 9(7): e102725.
  • Goodale, E., Kim, E., Nabors, A., Henrichon, S., and *Nieh, J. C*. (2014). The innate responses of bumble bees to flower patterns: separating the nectar guide from the nectary changes bee movements and search time. */Naturwissenschaften/*. DOI 10.1007/s00114-014-1188-9.
  • Lichtenberg, E., Graff Zivin, J., Hrncir, M. and *Nieh, J. C*. (2014) Eavesdropping selects for conspicuous signals. */Current Biology/*/. /24(1): R598-599. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2014.05.062
  • Bray, A. and *Nieh, J. C*. (2014) Non-consumptive predator effects shape honey bee foraging and recruitment dancing. */PLOS One/* 9(1) e87459.
  • Tan, K., Hu, Z., Chen, W., Wang, Z., Wang, Y., and Nieh, J. C. (2013) Fearful foragers: honey bees tune colony and individual foraging to multi-predator presence and food quality. PLOS ONE. 8(9) e75841, DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0075841.
  • Hagbery, J. and Nieh, J. C. (2012) Individual lifetime pollen and nectar foraging preferences in bumble bees. Naturwissenschaften. DOI 10.1007/s00114-012-0964-7. 99:821-832.
  • Goodale, E. and Nieh, J. C. (2012) Public use of olfactory information associated with predation in two species of social bees. Animal Behaviour. 84:919-924.
  • Eckles, M. A., Roubik, D. W. and Nieh, J. C. (2012) A stingless bee can use visual odometry to estimate both height and distance. Journal of Experimental Biology. 215:3155-3160.
  • Eiri D, Nieh JC (2012) A nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist affects honey bee sucrose responsiveness and decreases waggle dancing. Journal of Experimental Biology. 215:2022-2029.
  • Nguyen H, Nieh JC (2012) Colony and individual forager responses to food quality in the New World bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis. Journal of Insect Behavior. 25:60-69.
  • Nguyen, H., and Nieh, J. C. (2011) Colony and individual forager responses to food quality in the New World
  • Sánchez, D., Nieh, J. C., and Vandame, R. (2011) Visual and chemical cues provide redundant information in the multimodal recruitment system of the stingless bee Scaptotrigona mexicana (Apidae, Meliponini). Insectes Sociaux, in press.
  • Lichtenberg, E.M., Hrncir, M., and Nieh, J.C. (2011) Optimal eavesdropping by foraging stingless bees: empirical and theoretical support. Behavioral Ecol. Sociobiol. 65: 763-774.
  • Sadler, N. and Nieh, J. C. (2011) Honey bee forager thoracic temperature is tuned to broad scale differences in recruitment motivation. J. Exper. Biol.. 214: 469-475.
  • Johnson, B.R., Nieh, J.C. (2010) Modeling the adaptive role of negative signaling in honey bee intraspecific competition. J. Insect Behavior. 23: 459-471.
  • Ramírez, S.R., Nieh, J. C., Quental, T.B., Roubik, D.W., Imperatriz-Fonseca, V.L., and Pierce, N.E. (2010) Molecular phylogeny of the stingless bee genus Melipona (Hymenoptera: Apidae) and the evolution of recruitment communication in eusocial Apidae. Mol. Phylogenetic Evolution. 56: 519-525.
  • Nieh, J. C. (2010) A negative feedback signal that is triggered by peril curbs honey bee recruitment. Curr. Biol. 20: 310-315.
  • Lau, C.W. & Nieh, J.C. (2010) Honey bee stop signal production under overcrowded feeder conditions. Apidologie 41: 87-95.
  • Lichtenberg, E.M., Imperatriz-Fonseca†, V.L., and Nieh, J.C. (2010) Behavioral suites mediate group-level foraging dynamics in communities of tropical stingless bees. Insectes Sociaux 57: 105-113.


Dr. Nieh received his BA from Harvard in 1991 and his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1997. He completed a NSF-NATO postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Würzburg, Germany and was a Harvard Junior Fellow from 1998-2000.