Biosemiotics Achievement Award 2023

The selection panel of the Biosemiotics Achievement Award 2023 has decided on the meeting on 29 May 2024, after careful evaluation of the research papers published in Biosemiotics in 2023, to give the award to

Heidi Campana Piva

for the paper

Semiotically Mediated Human-Bee Communication in the Practice of Brazilian Meliponiculture

published in Biosemiotics, vol 16(2023), issue 1, 105–124.

Animal communication is mostly studied in the wild or in laboratories. However, for some specific domesticated species such as dogs, cats, and horses, research has focused on their relationships with humans in their shared habitat/environment. On the other hand, research on honeybee communication has been dominated by the classical research on bee-to-bee communication, in particular the so-called waggle dance code.

                In this article the researcher both combines and contrasts these dominant fields by investigating how certain Brazilian stingless bees, Meliponinis, communicate with their beekeepers. Stingless bees are thought to communicate mainly through optical, mechanical and olfactory (chemical) signals. The researcher assumes that the two parts at least share the olfactory channel. With this premise in mind, the researcher sets up a case study, explains her chosen methodology and finally discusses in detail her main research questions. These include the significant nature of domestication and the role of time and memory in olfactory communication.

                The contributions are supposed to be judged for the award according to the following three criteria:

(1) novelty in terms of theoretical or empirical discovery (i.e., enhanced description and explanation of existing and/or discovery of new empirical phenomena),

(2) relevance of new findings to the concepts or models of biosemiotics, and

(3) rigour of investigation.

                The selected paper is characterised by a clear discursive presentation in a language accessible to both laymen and researchers, without losing its professionalism. The author has managed to combine a critical extension of earlier, traditional work on bee communication with new questions about domestication. The paper thus generates interesting new perspectives and questions on interspecies communication, with significant relevance for the biosemiotic research community and beyond. This has been achieved despite unforeseen challenges in completing the data.

                The selected paper has received a high number of downloads since 2023. Many downloads in a short period of time is not necessarily an indication of quality, but it is at least a symptom of general interest. We take this broad interest as a quantitative confirmation of our claim that this paper is of significant professional relevance to readers of Biosemiotics.

                The selection panel highlights the importance of bee-human communication in the context of pollinator decline due to industrial agriculture, human-induced climate change, the replacement of natural landscapes and other factors of rapid climate change. This process, sometimes referred to as the ‘insect apocalypse’, highlights the need to study and re-evaluate traditional reciprocal practices of human-insect coexistence. The selected paper effectively presents rarely known local environmental knowledge (LEK) on beekeeping in Brazil, which is a positive example of such mutualistic relationships. The paper is arguably outstanding in terms of its rigor of investigation, showcasing meticulous work in data collection, analysis, and interpretation of results. These factors combined have successfully produced expected convincing research findings that point out possibilities of semiotically mediated communication between humans and stingless bees.