For more than a century, biologists have marveled at the highly cooperative nature of ants, bees and other social insects that work together to determine the survival and growth of a colony.
The social interactions are much like cells working together in a single body, hence the term "superorganism" — an organism comprised of many organisms, according to James Gillooly, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of biology at UF's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Now, researchers from UF, the University of Oklahoma and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have taken the same mathematical models that predict lifespan, growth and reproduction in individual organisms and used them to predict these features in whole colonies.
By analyzing data from 168 different social insect species including ants, termites, bees and wasps, the authors found that the lifespan, growth rates and rates of reproduction of whole colonies when considered as superorganisms were nearly indistinguishable from individual organisms.
The findings will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.
"This PNAS paper regarding the energetic basis of colonial living in social insects is notable for its originality and also for its importance," said Edward O. Wilson, a professor of biology at Harvard University and co-author of the book "The Super-Organism," who was not involved in the research. "The research certainly adds a new perspective to our study of how insect societies are organized and to what degree they are organized."
The study may also help scientists understand how social systems have arisen through natural selection — the process by which evolution occurs. The evolution of social systems of insects in particular, where sterile workers live only to help the queen reproduce, has long been a mystery, Gillooly said.
"In life, two of the major evolutionary innovations have been how cells came together to function as a single organism, and how individuals joined together to function as a society," said Gillooly, who is a member of the UF Genetics Institute. "Relatively speaking, we understand a considerable amount about how the size of multicellular organisms affects the life cycle of individuals based on metabolic theory, but now we are showing this same theoretical framework helps predict the life cycle of whole societies of organisms."
Researchers note that insect societies make up a large fraction of the total biomass on Earth, and say the finding may have implications for human societies.
"Certainly one of the reasons folks have been interested in social insects and the consequences of living in groups is that it tells us about our own species," said study co-author Michael Kaspari, Ph.D., a presidential professor of zoology, ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Oklahoma and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "There is currently a vigorous debate on how sociality evolved. We suggest that any theory of sociality be consistent with the amazing convergence in the way nonsocial and social organisms use energy."
In addition to Gillooly and Kaspari, Chen Hou from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Hannah B. Vander Zanden of the University of Florida participated in the study.
John Pastor | EurekAlert!
At last, butterflies get a bigger, better evolutionary tree
16.02.2018 | Florida Museum of Natural History
New treatment strategies for chronic kidney disease from the animal kingdom
16.02.2018 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
Let’s say the armrest is broken in your vintage car. As things stand, you would need a lot of luck and persistence to find the right spare part. But in the world of Industrie 4.0 and production with batch sizes of one, you can simply scan the armrest and print it out. This is made possible by the first ever 3D scanner capable of working autonomously and in real time. The autonomous scanning system will be on display at the Hannover Messe Preview on February 6 and at the Hannover Messe proper from April 23 to 27, 2018 (Hall 6, Booth A30).
Part of the charm of vintage cars is that they stopped making them long ago, so it is special when you do see one out on the roads. If something breaks or...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
16.02.2018 | Information Technology
16.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
16.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy