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Old 06-07-2021, 07:13 AM   #61 (permalink)
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it seems like the concept of a superorganism is not necessarily the same as a super colony. Not sure if I'm misunderstanding you but it sounds like you are conflating the two. A colony can be a super organism without needing multiple queens etc. If the ants are born into specific castes and more specifically are born without any way to reproduce other than through the queen, that sort of set up seems like one where increased coordination and cooperation between individuals is directly linked to fitness.

As for the super colonies, I can't speak generally but say the one in the bbc documentary that was farming aphids on the spruce trees, Attenborough does mention how the cooperation there is serving a practical benefit with regard to being granted access to the resources that can be marshalled by that big of a colony.
Yes, I did conflate the two. I've also since watched his lecture that you posted.

His lecture wasn't very illuminating. To my mind, he suggests that evolution happens at multiple levels. Through evolution at the gene/individual level, you can, by chance, evolve a set of important pre-conditions. Something he mentions is a defensible nest and the trait of not dispersing, but staying put. Wilson's thought is that if "normal" evolution leads to a species/colony attaining all these pre-conditions, they can flip over into an altruistic colony. That colony then has to make it in a competition with other non-altruistic colonies and has to be competitive. If it is, it will be selected for at the group level. It is my impression that he thinks group selection is what keeps these groups altruistic over time, yet he does not go into the supposed mechanisms by which that should work. He does mention that it can be shown in maths which I assume means you can make it work in a model. It's true, you can, but my current impression is that this is possible because the living conditions for organisms in models can become very weird, like they can have no parental investment in their young and possibly become adults once they're born, there may be no cost to simply living, etc.

Anyways, something he fails to bring up is whether or not the ants he talks about are kin. He says he distrusts kin selection as an explanation for superorganisms and so, if the individual ants were not kin, he could have capitalized and gotten support for his statement by mentioning that, but he didn't. Hence, I assume the ants in his examples were kin. As mentioned, kin selection theory has no trouble explaining the evolution of a superorganism and actually, solving that mystery was one of kin selection's big selling points in the 60s. Kin selection alone cannot explain a supercolony, but a superorganism is no trouble.. as long as the individuals that make up the superorganism are closely related.

There are other ways to evolve cooperation (like reciprocality), but kin selection is expected to lead to higher apparent "altruism" (altruism on the level of individuals, selfishness on the level of genes).

The word superorganism isn't one that I myself would use because it kinda hides the fact that ant hills are colonies occasionally marked by conflicts of interests between its inhabitants. Individuals don't always behave altruistic and even if they did, normal evolutionary theory (kin selection / inclusive fitness) can predict when that altruism should break down. The word is a heuristic device good for illustrating a point or to use in sentences like "evolution of the superorganism", but that's about it.

He's mostly in the world of ants, but when talking about superorganisms, it would be interesting to go into the world of colony animals, like siphonophores which is the group containing the famous portuguese man o war.



In their specific case, all the zooids (individuals) that make up the man o war are genetically identical and so kin selection would fully explain that.
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Old 06-07-2021, 07:36 AM   #62 (permalink)
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famous Portuguese man o war.
Washed up on a beach they look liked deflated balloons.

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Old 06-07-2021, 08:39 AM   #63 (permalink)
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Yes, I did conflate the two. I've also since watched his lecture that you posted.

His lecture wasn't very illuminating. To my mind, he suggests that evolution happens at multiple levels. Through evolution at the gene/individual level, you can, by chance, evolve a set of important pre-conditions. Something he mentions is a defensible nest and the trait of not dispersing, but staying put. Wilson's thought is that if "normal" evolution leads to a species/colony attaining all these pre-conditions, they can flip over into an altruistic colony. That colony then has to make it in a competition with other non-altruistic colonies and has to be competitive. If it is, it will be selected for at the group level. It is my impression that he thinks group selection is what keeps these groups altruistic over time, yet he does not go into the supposed mechanisms by which that should work. He does mention that it can be shown in maths which I assume means you can make it work in a model. It's true, you can, but my current impression is that this is possible because the living conditions for organisms in models can become very weird, like they can have no parental investment in their young and possibly become adults once they're born, there may be no cost to simply living, etc.

Anyways, something he fails to bring up is whether or not the ants he talks about are kin. He says he distrusts kin selection as an explanation for superorganisms and so, if the individual ants were not kin, he could have capitalized and gotten support for his statement by mentioning that, but he didn't. Hence, I assume the ants in his examples were kin. As mentioned, kin selection theory has no trouble explaining the evolution of a superorganism and actually, solving that mystery was one of kin selection's big selling points in the 60s. Kin selection alone cannot explain a supercolony, but a superorganism is no trouble.. as long as the individuals that make up the superorganism are closely related.

There are other ways to evolve cooperation (like reciprocality), but kin selection is expected to lead to higher apparent "altruism" (altruism on the level of individuals, selfishness on the level of genes).

The word superorganism isn't one that I myself would use because it kinda hides the fact that ant hills are colonies occasionally marked by conflicts of interests between its inhabitants. Individuals don't always behave altruistic and even if they did, normal evolutionary theory (kin selection / inclusive fitness) can predict when that altruism should break down. The word is a heuristic device good for illustrating a point or to use in sentences like "evolution of the superorganism", but that's about it.

He's mostly in the world of ants, but when talking about superorganisms, it would be interesting to go into the world of colony animals, like siphonophores which is the group containing the famous portuguese man o war.



In their specific case, all the zooids (individuals) that make up the man o war are genetically identical and so kin selection would fully explain that.
alright so basically if I understand you correctly you're saying kin selection doesn't explain super colonies yet you also acknowledge that super colonies exist. So apparently there is for the time being, a sort of wrinkle in that specific way of explaining all of evolution.

You don't think group selection is a good explaination. But you also don't have any idea what a good explaination would be. Is that more or less where we're at?
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Real question though: I know tropical and sidereal astrology are based on different coordinates. That obviously influences the alignments and associated readings, but are they approached differently and have you noticed if one leads to more consistent (some might say rigid) self-analysis than the other?
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Old 06-07-2021, 02:43 PM   #64 (permalink)
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alright so basically if I understand you correctly you're saying kin selection doesn't explain super colonies yet you also acknowledge that super colonies exist. So apparently there is for the time being, a sort of wrinkle in that specific way of explaining all of evolution.

You don't think group selection is a good explaination. But you also don't have any idea what a good explaination would be. Is that more or less where we're at?
This seems about right, except for the bolded part.

I have suggested a possible explanation. Ants being unable to recognize kin-nestmates from non-kin-nestmates could (should?) turn them altruistic. Generally, I would expect ants to evolve this ability, but there may be some constraint to its evolution.

However, not being an ant expert, I am unsure of how good that suggested explanation is. Perhaps we should just shoot an email to Bert Hölldobler and ask him what he thinks.
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Old 06-07-2021, 10:24 PM   #65 (permalink)
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I dunno who that is but if you could get him to comment that's be cool. I appreciate your input anyway.

What you suggested about them not being able to recognize non kin sounds essentially like what they said happened in the one national geographic documentary that first brought this to my attention. They said something about either the ants from different nests stopped recognizing the difference between their scents or that somehow the scents were altered to be the same. Not sure which it was but basically the result is they don't seem to recognize that these ants from neighboring colonies aren't part of their colony.

Instead of this being a mutation that hurts the colony and leaves it vulnerable to more "selfish" traditional colonies, it seems like it lead to them spreading from Argentina to Europe and other parts of the globe.

It seems to me on the face of it that there is at least some utility/advantage to being able to drastically increase the scale on which colonies can cooperate, but I'm not sure if maybe it ultimately is unstable as you suggested it might be. I guess time will tell
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Real question though: I know tropical and sidereal astrology are based on different coordinates. That obviously influences the alignments and associated readings, but are they approached differently and have you noticed if one leads to more consistent (some might say rigid) self-analysis than the other?
https://johnwilkesboothblog.wordpress.com/
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Old 06-08-2021, 02:54 AM   #66 (permalink)
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I dunno who that is but if you could get him to comment that's be cool. I appreciate your input anyway.

What you suggested about them not being able to recognize non kin sounds essentially like what they said happened in the one national geographic documentary that first brought this to my attention. They said something about either the ants from different nests stopped recognizing the difference between their scents or that somehow the scents were altered to be the same. Not sure which it was but basically the result is they don't seem to recognize that these ants from neighboring colonies aren't part of their colony.

Instead of this being a mutation that hurts the colony and leaves it vulnerable to more "selfish" traditional colonies, it seems like it lead to them spreading from Argentina to Europe and other parts of the globe.

It seems to me on the face of it that there is at least some utility/advantage to being able to drastically increase the scale on which colonies can cooperate, but I'm not sure if maybe it ultimately is unstable as you suggested it might be. I guess time will tell
That is exactly what I was thinking as well. And if they can't tell non-ant myrmecophiles (beetles/spiders/etc living in ant hills) from kin, they probably can't tell other non-kin-nestmates from kin. We also saw this in the documentary where the queen wood ant basically fought sugar ants (that's what we call them here, the little black ones). After fighting them for a while, she was lathered in their scents so they eventually accepted her presence. They had no real good defense once she had their smell on her. So I got the impression that if ants just start to stay together for some reason or start to mix, they should also start to share a scent and they won't be able to tell if anyone's not kin. With kin selection being such a tremendous shaping force in their past, they will then "kin select" for non-kin.

So with kin selection sort of stopped in its tracks, at least temporarily, I'll admit there might be some merit to Wilson's group selection arguments.

You're also right that this could make it unstable in the long run. It might be a while, though.

I may be blabbering on, but there's a concept in evolutionary which illustrates evolutionary constraints in a nice way which is fitness landscapes. They look kinda like this:



I'm not exactly sure what the landscapes here represent, but if we look at C, we can just make up a silly scenario for illustrative purposes. Lets just say birds and say that the landscape represents different adaptations in beak size. The dips and peaks in the chart represent fitness or how good an adaptation/strategy is (the higher the better). So the little peak to the right could be a small beak. It's good for cracking seeds so it's a good adaptation. However, there is an even more optimal beak size to the left in the landscape, illustrated by the largest peak. This could be a longer beak great for reaching insects hiding in the wood.

One might think if it's better to have a longer beak, that would simply evolve, but in this case the stepwise evolutionary path of gradual beak elongation would take the birds into a dip where the beak is a decidedly un-optimal shape. The middle ground adaptation, the in-between beak, has lower fitness than any of the positive strategies. So if some birds just start down that path, natural selection will work against them and push the population back up into the strategy they already have. Natural selection prevents them from evolving into the optimal beak shape strategy.

In order to make the "leap", they may have to make it as a single mutation, giving rise to one special bird with a much better beak. This happens for some traits, but it's not likely to happen for something like a bird beak.

So I'm not sure what the constraints would be to ants evolving kin-recognition, but constraints are usually present in some shape and it's not unlikely that there could be one or more and that the effect could be considerable.

edit:

I sent a mail to Hölldobler I don't expect an answer, but will of course share one if it comes.
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Old 08-22-2021, 04:34 AM   #67 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Frownland View Post
Real question though: I know tropical and sidereal astrology are based on different coordinates. That obviously influences the alignments and associated readings, but are they approached differently and have you noticed if one leads to more consistent (some might say rigid) self-analysis than the other?
https://johnwilkesboothblog.wordpress.com/
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