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James Nieh


The Nieh lab studies foraging communication and behavior in the social bees and honey bee health. We are interested in the selective pressures that have shaped behavior and the evolution of social communication, particularly referential communication, in highly social bees. In the area of bee health, we study the effects of xenobiotics on honey bee behavior and a major honey bee disease, nosemosis. 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.

figure 2

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.

figure 3

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
  • Dong Shihao, Wen Ping, Xinyu Li, Tan Ken, and Nieh, J.C. (accepted) Resisting majesty: Apis cerana, has lower antennal sensitivity and decreased attraction to queen mandibular pheromone than Apis mellifera. Scientific Reports.
  • Ya-nan Cheng, Wen Ping, Shi-hao Dong, Ken Tan, Nieh, J.C. (2017) Poison and alarm: The Asian hornet Vespa velutina uses sting venom volatiles as an alarm pheromone. Journal of Experimental Biology.
  • Gong, Z, Wang, C., Nieh, J.C., and Tan, K. (2016) Inhibiting DNA methylation alters olfactory learning extinction but not acquisition in Apis cerana and Apis mellifera. Journal of Insect Physiology. 90:43-49.
  • Wang, Z., Wen, P., Yufeng, Q., Dong, S., Li, J. Tan, K., and Nieh, J.C. (2016) Bees eavesdrop upon informative and persistent signal compounds in alarm pheromones. Scientific Reports. 6: 25693 EP.
  • Tan, K., Dong, S., Liu, X., Wang, C., Li, J., and Nieh J.C. (2016) Honey bee inhibitory signaling is tuned to threat severity and can act as a colony alarm signal. PLOS Biology. 14(3): e1002423-19.
  • Lecocq, A., Jensen, A.B., Kryger, P., and Nieh, J.C. (2016) Parasite infection accelerates age polyethism in young honey bees. Scientific Reports. 6: 11. doi:10.1038/srep22042.
  • Lau, P. and Nieh J.C. (2016) Salt preferences of honey bee water foragers. Journal of Experimental Biology 219: 790-796.
  • Zhang, E. and Nieh, J.C. (2015) A neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, impairs honey bee aversive learning of simulated predation. Journal of Experimental Biology 218 3199-3205.
  • Jack-McCollough R.T. and Nieh, J.C. (2015) Honey bees tune excitatory and inhibitory recruitment signaling to resource value and predation risk. Animal Behaviour. 110: 9-17.
  • Eiri, D., Endler, M., Suwannapong, G., and Nieh, J.C. (2015) Nosema ceranae can infect honey bee larvae and reduce subsequent adult longevity.PLOS One. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0126330.
  • Tan, K., Cheng, W., Dong, S., Liu, X., Wang, Y. and Nieh, J. C. (2015) A neonicotinoid impairs olfactory learning in Asian honey bees (Apis cerana) exposed as larvae or as adults. Scientific Reports. DOI:10.1038/srep10989.
  • León, A., Arias-Castro, C., Rodríguez-Mendiola, A., Meza-Gordillo, R., Gutiérrez-Miceli, F. A., and Nieh, J.C. (2015) Colony foraging allocation is finely tuned to food distance and sweetness even close to a bee colony. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 155: 47-53.
  • 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.