Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Meet the Beetles: Social Networks Provide Clues to Natural Selection

31.01.2012
Think of them as a group of guys, hanging out together, but not spending much time with the ladies, nor getting much "action." Except these "guys" are forked fungus beetles.
Forked what? Yes, forked fungus beetles. Like other insects and animals, they have their own societies. Most are highly social, but some hang out in small guy groups.

It turns out, maybe not surprisingly, that the cliquish ones – the small groups of male beetles that live on the fringes of society with their buddies – are less likely to meet up with females, copulate and pass on their genes to offspring.

Why does it matter? Because social interactions likely are the products of evolution by natural selection – Charles Darwin's description for nature's process whereby characteristics that help individuals to survive and propagate are spread through the population.

And so forked fungus beetles and their activities are of immense interest to Vince Formica and Butch Brodie, evolutionary biologists in the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences. They study the beetles in a remote forest near U.Va.'s Mountain Lake Biological Station in southwest Virginia.

"Forked fungus beetles are not pretty – they look like tree bark – but they're helping us better understand the evolution of social behavior," Formica said. He is the lead author on a paper about the study published in the January edition of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

Formica and his team wanted to know if an individual beetle's place in society is related to its reproductive success.

"In the world of evolutionary biology, we are interested in how natural selection can shape traits or characteristics of organisms," he said. "Studying social networks are a way of analyzing the structure of animal societies. In this case, we were asking if an individual's position in a social network is a trait or characteristic of an individual that can experience natural selection. Apparently it is."

Formica said there are essentially two parts to evolution by natural selection: The first is a trait related to the number of offspring produced, and the second is the ability to pass that trait on to offspring, what scientists call heritability.

"We've shown that the trait of sociability is under natural selection, but we don't know yet if it's heritable," he said. "This is one of only a few studies that has shown that position in a social network is a trait that can experience natural selection and therefore has the potential to evolve. It's clear in this study that being central in a large social network is key to high reproductive success. If a trait – such as an individual's position in a network – is related to reproductive success, you can say it is experiencing natural selection and has the potential to evolve."

Formica chose forked fungus beetles as his study models partly because they are easy to capture, tag and observe.

"We can sit and watch their whole universe," he said.

But the beetles are nocturnal, so researchers spend long nights in the forests watching them.

"We drink a lot of espresso," he said.

The biologists tag the beetles with extreme-miniature ID numbers that glow when scanned under ultraviolet lights. The researchers then are able to watch their social activities – everything from fighting to eating to mating, to just sitting there like bark on logs.

Formica's team, made up mostly of undergraduate students, observed that some of the beetles are very social and have a large network of friends. These active beetles also have a lot of sex. But the male beetles that have small social networks – just a few male friends – tend to spend little time with females and copulate rarely.

"Do individual behaviors cause their position to evolve, and does it cause the society to evolve as well? That's what we're attempting to answer," he said.

While Formica is hesitant to draw direct connections from his findings to the romantic lives of humans, he does believe that uncovering how social networks operate, even in a tiny bark-shaped beetle, is vital if we want to understand how all societies evolve.

Fariss Samarrai | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.virginia.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht How do muscles know what time it is?
21.08.2018 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht A novel synthetic antibody enables conditional “protein knockdown” in vertebrates
20.08.2018 | Technische Universität Dresden

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: It’s All in the Mix: Jülich Researchers are Developing Fast-Charging Solid-State Batteries

There are currently great hopes for solid-state batteries. They contain no liquid parts that could leak or catch fire. For this reason, they do not require cooling and are considered to be much safer, more reliable, and longer lasting than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Jülich scientists have now introduced a new concept that allows currents up to ten times greater during charging and discharging than previously described in the literature. The improvement was achieved by a “clever” choice of materials with a focus on consistently good compatibility. All components were made from phosphate compounds, which are well matched both chemically and mechanically.

The low current is considered one of the biggest hurdles in the development of solid-state batteries. It is the reason why the batteries take a relatively long...

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A materials scientist’s dream come true

21.08.2018 | Materials Sciences

Quantum bugs, meet your new swatter

20.08.2018 | Information Technology

A novel synthetic antibody enables conditional “protein knockdown” in vertebrates

20.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>