Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Leading Evolutionary Biologists Discuss Cooperation in Ants

-C. Paula de los Angeles

Two leading evolutionary biologists, Bert Holldobler and E.O. Wilson, explore ants (again...after their first exploration in Nobel-prize winning book The Ants in 1991) in their second book, The Superorganisms: The Beauty, Elegance and Strangeness of Insect Societies , published last year. Having taken Professor Deborah Gordon's class on ant evolution, leading ant biologist of Stanford University, I was extremely excited about this book and interview.

Holldobler is a leading German behavioral biologist whose research insect of choice is the ant. Currently, he is a faculty member at the University of Wuerzburg and Arizona State University. Wilson is a leading American biologist, research, theorist, and naturalist, with a speciality in mymecology. He currently holds positions at Harvard University and at the International Academy of Humanism as a Humanist Laureate.

In an interview with Claudia Dreifus, science reporter of The New York Times, Holldolbler defends that we have much to learn from ants.

In writing their new book, Holldobler is the "experimentalist" and Wilson, the "synthesizer". They document the success of the ant society because of their stress on cooperation and a division of labor. Nonreproductive ants do anything to benefit the "queen", allowing for these societies to grow to great numbers. Ant societies that are internally competitive have been less successful. They have been able to gather information through observation as well as through genetic testing of the chemicals involved in ant communication signaling.

Hard to know what new ideas that Holldobler and Wilson bring to the observation of division of labor in ant societies yet, I am excited to read this book. So far, it's gotten the thumbs up from both The New York Times
and many reviewers on amazon.com, two sources I normally look to for book recommendations.

News link here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/16/science/16conv.html?pagewanted=1&ref=science

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