Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Social insects point to non-genetic origins of societies

29.09.2003


Social structures form through group dynamics, not trait selection



From her work studying social insects, Arizona State University biologist Jennifer Fewell believes that these remarkable animals suggest a an alternate cause behind the development of complex societies. In a viewpoint essay in the September 26 issue of the journal Science, Fewell argues that complex social structures like those seen in social insect communities can arise initially from the nature of group interactions -- the inherent dynamics of networks.

The ability of certain animals to form complex social systems -- particularly humans and social insects like bees, ants and termites -- is considered by many biologists to be one of the pinnacles of biological adaptation and complexity. Social organization allows organisms to share labor, to specialize in tasks and to coordinate efforts. Through organization, social animals accomplish remarkable things - they build colonies supporting millions of individuals, maintain multi-layered social systems, manage complex farming and food production systems, and build elaborate designs and constructions, from giant self-cooling termite towers to skyscrapers.


The development of social systems is often assumed to be driven by species modifications arrived at through natural selection. Social characteristics such as caste systems and complex behaviors have been thought to be traits programmed by genes, created through evolutionary processes. Though insect social systems are in many ways as complex as human societies, Fewell contends that the relative simplicity of the insects themselves argues against the systems being created solely by the evolutionary development of biocomplexity in the individual organisms.

"We look at human groups and we think we have these elaborate systems of interaction because we are elaborate beings, but when you look at an ant, you know that it is not an elaborate being," she said. ", When you see how elaborate their societies are, you realize that there is another answer to the question of how these arise. And if there’s another answer for them, there might be another answer for us too."

Network dynamics, Fewell argues, can create organized social structures when relatively simple connections between various individuals in a group create patterns of behavior of increasing complexity, much the same way as relatively simple mathematical rules can create mathematical patterns of great intricacy.

"How do termites know how to build this huge chimney that allows a colony to thermoregulate?" Fewell asked. "The answer is that they don’t - it’s an emergent property of simple interactions - one termite puts a piece of dirt there and the other termite comes along and smells that a termite put her piece of dirt there, so she does too, instead of somewhere else. At first it’s random and termites are putting their dirt in different places, but then one place becomes the dominant location and the structure goes from there."

In the same way, organized societies themselves can be created by patterns developed through simple interactions in a network of individuals.

"The patterns are things that we call emergent properties - colony-level behaviors or structures that can be explained by looking at interactions," Fewell said. "The one that I am most interested in is division of labor, in which different individuals perform different tasks and specialize on different activities.

"This happens, for example, when you put a group of students together. Give them an assignment and they start organizing -- somebody will start note-taking, and someone will structure the discussion, and someone will go up to the board, and someone will just sit there and let everyone else do the work. Similar division of labor happens in a social insect colony, though social insects are much simpler animals."

Though social networks are commonly thought of as evolutionary adaptations, Fewell turns this idea on its head by proposing that the network forms first, following the logic and pattern of group connections, then adaptation follows to strengthen the pattern. Social organization, seen in this light, is essentially an emergent property that comes from the network’s geometry - a natural pattern to which organisms adapt.

"Social insects are interesting because you can follow them ,individually mark them and see the patterns form," she said. "Humans are affected by the same kinds of emerging properties. If you look at global patterns of social organization, you can see networks shaping what is going on. You are --in part-- what your social environment makes you."

James Hathaway | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.asu.edu/asunews/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Could this protein protect people against coronary artery disease?
17.11.2017 | University of North Carolina Health Care

nachricht Microbial resident enables beetles to feed on a leafy diet
17.11.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>