The Sociogenesis of Insect Colonies

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Science  28 Jun 1985:
Vol. 228, Issue 4707, pp. 1489-1495
DOI: 10.1126/science.228.4707.1489


Studies on the social insects (ants, bees, wasps, and termites) have focused increasingly on sociogenesis, the process by which colony members undergo changes in caste, behavior, and physical location incident to colonial development. Caste is determined in individuals largely by environmental cues that trigger a sequence of progressive physiological restrictions. Individual determination, which is socially mediated, yields an age-size frequency distribution of the worker population that enhances survival and reproduction of the colony as a whole, typically at the expense of individuals. This "adaptive demography" varies in a predictable manner according to the species and size of the colony. The demography is richly augmented by behavioral pacemaking on the part of certain castes and programmed changes in the physical position of colony members according to age and size. Much of what has been observed in these three colony-level traits (adaptive demography, pacemaking, and positional effects) can be interpreted as the product of ritualization of dominance and other forms of selfish behavior that is still found in the more primitive insect societies. Some of the processes can also be usefully compared with morphogenesis at the levels of cells and tissues.