Sunday, February 15, 2009

A thought about evolution

How does an insect evolve
a society
to build this ant hill?

An article in Science magazine describes a scientific debate going on, associated with Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson, as to how eusociality evolved. The article states that
three forces were at work in shaping an insect society: group, individual, and "collateral" kin selection (involving relatives other than offspring). Group selection occurs when one cooperating hive or nest out-competes another one; individual selection involves the survival and reproductive output of a particular ant, wasp, or bee; and kin selection has an impact when relatives other than offspring help spread shared genes.
Comment: I am certainly not competent to enter into a debate with two of the world's greatest experts on insect societies, but I would express my enthusiasm for the intellectual leap that their argument represents.

People can now construct computer programs not only to simulate each of these evolutionary processes, but also to simulate processes that combine them in different proportions. Indeed, as computer power increases it should be possible to utilize such programs in practical applications.

It occurs to me that with three different forms of evolution that probably occur in these species it is likely to be very difficult to understand in retrospect how important was each at each stage of their evolution. That something is difficult to understand ex post facto does not mean that the theories of how it may have occurred are wrong, nor that they are not useful. JAD

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