Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Study Suggests Theory for Insect Colonies As ‘Superorganisms’

A team of researchers including scientists from the University of Florida has shown insect colonies follow some of the same biological “rules” as individuals, a finding that suggests insect societies operate like a single “superorganism” in terms of their physiology and life cycle.

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, 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 online "Early Edition" of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“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, 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 | Newswise Science News
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'
16.03.2018 | Emory Health Sciences

nachricht Scientists map the portal to the cell's nucleus
16.03.2018 | Rockefeller University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>