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Study suggests theory for insect colonies as 'superorganisms'
Date:1/19/2010

New 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, 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 soc
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Contact: John Pastor
jdpastor@ufl.edu
352-273-5815
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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