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The highly specialized worker castes in ants represent the pinnacle of social organization in the insect world. As in any society, however, ant colonies are filled with internal strife and conflict. So what binds them together? More than 150 years ago, Charles Darwin had an idea and now he's been proven right.
Evolutionary biologists at McGill University have discovered molecular signals that can maintain social harmony in ants by putting constraints on their fertility. Dr. Ehab Abouheif, of McGill's Department of Biology, and post-doctoral researcher, Dr. Abderrahman Khila, have discovered how evolution has tinkered with the genes of colonizing insects like ants to keep them from fighting amongst themselves over who gets to reproduce.
"We've discovered a really elegant developmental mechanism, which we call 'reproductive constraint,' that challenges the classic paradigm that behaviour, such as policing, is the only way to enforce harmony and squash selfish behaviour in ant societies," said Abouheif, McGill's Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Developmental Biology.
Reproductive constraint comes into play in these ant societies when evolutionary forces begin to work in a group context rather than on individuals, the researchers said. The process can be seen in the differences between advanced ant species and their more primitive cousins. The study was published in the Nov. 18 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Ants organized in colonies around one or many queens surrounded by their specialized female workers are classic examples of what are called eusocial organisms.
"More primitive, or ancestral, ants tend to have smaller colony sizes and have much higher levels of conflict over reproduction than the more advanced species," Abouhei
|Contact: Mark Shainblum|