Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Research predicts growth, survival of 'superorganism' ant colonies

Date:
December 19, 2012
Source:
Missouri University of Science and Technology
Summary:
Smaller ant colonies tend to live faster, die younger and burn up more energy than their larger counterparts, as do the individual ants that make up those colonies, according to new research that views the colonies as “superorganisms” in which social insects function much like the cells of a body.

Smaller ant colonies tend to live faster, die younger and burn up more energy than their larger counterparts, as do the individual ants that make up those colonies, according to new research that views the colonies as "superorganisms" in which social insects function much like the cells of a body.

The research, published in the Dec. 23 issue of the journal Biology Letters, describes a new mathematical model that can predict the survival, growth and life span of ant colonies. Dr. Chen Hou, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Missouri University of Science and Technology, is one of the authors of the study and developed the mathematical models used to predict colony growth and survival.

Hou also collected some of the data used for the Biology Letters study, titled "Towards a general life-history model of the superorganism: predicting the survival, growth and reproduction of ant societies."

In the article, Hou and his colleagues compared the rates of metabolism, growth, reproduction and longevity of individual ants with those same traits for entire colonies. He based his models on Kleiber's Law, the observation that the metabolic rate for organisms -- the rate at which they process and use energy over time -- tends to increase at a rate that is to the 3/4 power of that organism's body mass. Named after Max Kleiber's biological work in the early 1930s, Kleiber's Law is also known as "quarter-power scaling."

As Hou explains it, a horse may be 10,000 times heavier than a mouse, but it doesn't consume 10,000 times more energy. Applying quarter-power scaling, researchers can determine that a horse, which is 10,000 times larger than the mouse, only consumes 1,000 times more energy (because 10,000 to the 3/4 power equals 1,000).

The same phenomena holds true at the cellular level, Hou says. Two similar organ cells from two different organisms -a mouse and a horse, for instance -- do not use proportionately equal amounts of energy. "The one from the horse needs and uses much less energy than the one from the mouse," even though both cells have the same purpose and function, Hou says.

In ant colonies, that same phenomenon applies, Hou and his colleagues point out in the Biology Letters study. The ants behave more like the cells of animal and their colonies more like the animal itself -- which is why the researchers classify colonies as "superorganisms." The individual ants of larger colonies consume and use less energy than their counterparts in smaller colonies, just as the cells of a horse consume and use less energy than the cells of a mouse.

Combining data from actual ant colonies with predictions based on mathematical models, the researchers found that body mass and metabolic rates increased at a consistent, nearly three-quarter-power scaling rate for worker ants and queen ants alike, as well as for their colonies.

Based on these findings, the researchers then developed a mathematical model to predict colony lifespan by linking it with colony size, or mass. They found that the larger colonies tended to live longer and use less energy than smaller colonies.

The research is a continuation of a 2010 study Hou and his colleagues published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In that paper, the researchers introduced the idea that insect societies operate like a single superorganism in terms of their physiology and life history.

Hou is first co-author of the Biology Letters article with Dr. Jonathan Z. Shik of North Carolina State University. Other contributors to the study are Dr. Adam Kay of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.; Dr. Michael E. Kaspari, Presidential Professor of Biology at the University of Oklahoma; and Dr. James F. Gillooly, associate professor of biology at the University of Florida.

Other researchers are taking quarter-power scaling and applying it to entire cities, to determine whether they too function as "superorganisms" in some respects, such as energy usage. For instance, says Hou, Dr. Geoffrey West, a theoretical physicist and past president of the Santa Fe Institute, and his colleagues found that "proxies of city energy usage, such as number of gas stations, total length of electric cables and so on, scale sub-linearly with the size of the city," says Hou.

"Just like the examples of ants and cells, between two similar people, the one living in the bigger city is more energy-efficient," Hou says. "As you can imagine, the number of gas stations per capita is smaller in New York than St. Louis, and smaller in St. Louis than Rolla, which means more people share one gas station in New York than in St. Louis, than in Rolla."

Hou, an expert in animal energetics, applies similar energy scaling laws to study how animals uptake energy during growth and how they allocate that energy to growth, health maintenance and reproduction. Recently, his focus has been on the effect of food restriction on extending the animals' life spans.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Missouri University of Science and Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. Z. Shik, C. Hou, A. Kay, M. Kaspari, J. F. Gillooly. Towards a general life-history model of the superorganism: predicting the survival, growth and reproduction of ant societies. Biology Letters, 2012; 8 (6): 1059 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0463

Cite This Page:

Missouri University of Science and Technology. "Research predicts growth, survival of 'superorganism' ant colonies." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 December 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121219092819.htm>.
Missouri University of Science and Technology. (2012, December 19). Research predicts growth, survival of 'superorganism' ant colonies. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121219092819.htm
Missouri University of Science and Technology. "Research predicts growth, survival of 'superorganism' ant colonies." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121219092819.htm (accessed August 27, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Calif. Quake Underscores Need for Early Warning

Calif. Quake Underscores Need for Early Warning

AP (Aug. 26, 2014) Researchers at UC Berkeley are testing a prototype of an earthquake early warning system that California is pursuing years after places like Mexico and Japan already have them up and running. (August 26) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 26, 2014) Huge waves generated by Hurricane Marie hit the Southern California coast. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Brazil Tries Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Fight Dengue

Brazil Tries Genetically Modified Mosquitoes to Fight Dengue

AFP (Aug. 25, 2014) A factory in the industrial state of Sao Paulo produces genetically modified mosquitoes to fight dengue, a deadly tropical disease more prevalent in Brazil than anywhere else in the world. Duration: 00:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Prime Minister at Japan Landslide Site

Raw: Prime Minister at Japan Landslide Site

AP (Aug. 25, 2014) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Hiroshima on Monday as rescuers expanded their search for dozens still missing from landslides around the western Japanese city that killed at least 50 people. (Aug. 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins