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jwb 05-28-2021 07:52 AM

ants
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Guybrush (Post 2174302)
At least they didn't think it was thong theory :)

By the way, cool to have a physicist on board! I occasionally pretend like I know anything about physics. This is gonna sound stupid, but you'd be surprised at how often creationists bring up that evolution and the various molecules and so on that are shaped by that are a violation of the second law of thermodynamics (entropy).. and so while trying to refute those kinds of arguments, I kinda wish I'd taken a course or three. Biology had maths and chemistry, but not much physics.

you're a biologist that works with insects right?

I was watching this video on ants and most of it was normal **** I already heard but towards like 18 minutes in she says the way ant colonies cooperate selflessly makes scientists question the way they look at evolution. I.E. the whole idea of the selfish gene type explanation of altruism in animals via kin selection and reciprocity. But since the colony is all essentially designed to perpetuate the genes of the queen... Even though you might have individual ants acting sacrificially, that doesn't really undermine the role of genetics in terms of selective pressure right? Because instead of each ant being selected for its genes the colony as a whole is selected for its genes and as a result the individual ants "cooperate" towards that end the same way cells in our bodies do... Right??

Tldr what's the actual beef between Dawkins and eo Wilson?

Guybrush 05-28-2021 09:05 AM

Yes I am or used to be some 10ish years ago. From what I can remember, social hymenopterans like ants or honey bees are fully explained by what you might call selfish gene theory (or rather kin selection).

The thing about these hymenopterans is they have a strange way to determine sex. We humans are diploid, meaning we have one set of genes from mom and one from dad (23 chromosomes from each).

If you do some maths in your head, that means parents are 50% related to their children. Keeping it a bit simple and ignoring things like mDNA, siblings from same parents could theoretically be 0% related (they got the other half from each parent) to 100% related. On average, they will be about 50% related.

For hymenopterans, it's not like this. What makes a male a male is that he is haploid - he has only one set of chromosomes and half the total of his diploid mother or sisters. His mother, the queen, doesn't even need a father to produce males, hence them missing the father part of the chromosomes.

When the queen has sex with a male, he only has one set of chromosomes to pass down. Every one of his sperms will be the same. That means that his daughters will always contain the same set of chromosomes from dad and be at least 50% related. Then they will also share some of the genes that mom pass down, on average 50% of those. Mom's contribution is 50% of the chromosomes, so 50% of 50% is 25%.

This means female worker bees/ants are on average 75% related.

If a worker bee would have a child of her own, she would only be 50% related to it. But if her mom produces another sister, that sister will be 75% related to her. So from the perspective of the selfish genes that inhabit a worker bee, it makes more sense in terms of fitness benefit to make sure the queen produces more siblings. It's better than sex. Hence, what may look like altruism is just selfishness in disguise and something that can lead to a high level of cooperation. Even if the worker bee dies, she can potentially have a huge fitness gain if her sacrifice ensured mom's continued baby making.

Writing on my phone, so sorry if it's nearly all typos :) also sorry if this is all old news, but I personally haven't seen this refuted.

The Batlord 05-28-2021 09:35 AM

Quote:

It's better than sex.
Calm down, you creepy bug nerd.

Marie Monday 05-28-2021 10:33 AM

All that I'm taking away from Guybrush's elaborate, informative explanation is that women > men
Maybe that's the secret, profound connection between ants and lesbians

Guybrush 05-28-2021 11:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Marie Monday (Post 2174645)
All that I'm taking away from Guybrush's elaborate, informative explanation is that women > men
Maybe that's the secret, profound connection between ants and lesbians

Yes. In social bees and ants, I guess you might say a male is only half the woman a woman is.

elphenor 05-28-2021 11:34 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Marie Monday (Post 2174645)
All that I'm taking away from Guybrush's elaborate, informative explanation is that women > men
Maybe that's the secret, profound connection between ants and lesbians

I'll say it again

the world is gonna be a much better place when we're all lesbians with test tube babies

Guybrush 05-29-2021 03:32 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb (Post 2174617)
Tldr what's the actual beef between Dawkins and eo Wilson?

I didn't respond to this part as I was a bit busy. I have seen some Wilson proponent ant hill selection arguments, but it was a long time ago and I cannot remember the details. Hence, I am quite ignorant on that subject and I will profess that I am generally more of a Dawkins student.

One thing that I feel sets biology apart from other natural sciences like physics and chemistry is there are ALWAYS exceptions to rules in biology. I'm sure there are even many exceptions to my statement just there. This sometimes leads to contention.

So take the unit for selection. In 1973, Dawkins proposed the gene as the unit for selection. It has a lot going for it. An important argument is that genes CAN be selected for. Individuals and populations can't, not in the same way. What is meant by this is that you yourself is made up of a temporary constellation of genes. You're the only jwb that has ever existed and will ever exist. You can be selected for - you get to reproduce - but you won't produce another jwb. Your kid carries some of your genes, but not all of them. Hence, when you reproduce, you might say we break the individual up into genes where some genes get lucky and are passed on and some not. Individuals die, but (some of) their genes live on.

Dawkins actually defined genes in his 1973 book a little differently than common use. What he meant by gene was actually just a length of DNA that tends to get passed down wholly. It's a replicator with a persistent evolutionary existence. Unlike us temporary individuals, these genes are comparatively immortal and exist across generations/individuals, making them a more permanent feature of evolution. Such genes could code for no proteins or several - this is not actually part of Dawkin's definition back then.

So the reasoning, to me, is quite beautiful to my thinking. But I'm sure as you've read this far, you've already come up with some scenarios where it isn't true. As I wrote, evolutionary history is very long and nature makes such a mess, there's bound to be exceptions. Take any clonal insect, like stick insects. There are species where we don't know of males and are a little unsure if they exist. Females reproduce clonally and so you don't really break the individual up into genes when reproducing. The individual is passed on, breaking the above logic. At least until a male comes along.

So it arguably breaks down at various places, but generally holds true. I can't quite remember the argument why we should invoke group selection for ant hills, but perhaps there could be some logical argument made. I may add, though, that when I studied biology, group selection was by and large considered to be dead. It was mostly considered to be an old-fashioned misunderstanding and didn't have much standing, but perhaps it's been reinvigorated since then. Hence, I am skeptical, but wanna remain open to potentially good ideas.

When I have the time, I will look into it and if you remember any specifics, feel free to inform me, of course.

Guybrush 05-29-2021 06:44 AM

jwb, I put forward your question to other biologists I know in Norway through a facebook group we have. It's not yet brimming with replies, but there's some which has led to some interesting insights for me.

About Wilson, he did put forth an argument that eusociality had evolved by some form of group selection. I have not yet dug into what exactly the mechanisms were supposed to be, but this was countered by the aforementioned haplodiploid argument that I got into and which was published in Dawkins' 1973 The Selfish Gene.

Wilson argued that it was not sufficient to explain eusociality because a requirement, which I admittedly didn't get into, is monogamy. Once a queen ant has sex with several males and not just one, the relatedness between worker ants drops. There are non-monogamous species of hymenopterans that are eusocial. However, it seems that monogamy was an ancestral traits even in these lineages so that at the time eusociality evolved in hymenoptera, diplohaploidity and kin selection coupld with monogamy is indeed a likely explanation.

Source: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/320/5880/1213

HOWEVER there are other things that are needed to explain eusociality as well, especially when found outside hymenoptera. Ecological factors and things like inbreeding can play important part, as well as the way genetics works for the various lineages (like the diplohaploid sex determination system or chromosomal linkage in termites).

Some things I found interesting are a couple of pre-conditions that seem important:
  1. Offspring that require a lot of parental care
  2. Low reproductive success rates for solitary pairs that attempt to reproduce

There are more things, but these two coupled with some kind of circumstance that might increase relatedness between siblings seem like important factors that will help drive evolution of eusociality.

I'm told this is not bad -> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_eusociality

I'll keep reading because it's highly interesting so may comment more.. But right now, my wife tells me I need to get out and have ice in the sun with the kids.

Neapolitan 05-29-2021 10:47 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb (Post 2174617)

Tldr what's the actual beef between Dawkins and eo Wilson?

Is that Darryl Dawkins of the 76er/Nets!? I too would also like to know what was his actual beef with Wilson basketballs.

jwb 05-30-2021 06:55 AM

ants
 
/bees/eusocial insect colonies

I made this thread to avoid derailing the other one since obviously it is a rather niche topic that many people might not find interest in. I appreciate the responses tore gave me to my drunken rambling question in the Stupid Questions thread. It was a lot more than I was expecting. So I figured I would go ahead and make this thread.

If a mod or someone wanted to move the relevant posts from that thread to this one it might make it easier to follow.


Quote:

Originally Posted by Guybrush (Post 2174622)
Keeping it a bit simple and ignoring things like mDNA, siblings from same parents could theoretically be 0% related (they got the other half from each parent) to 100% related. On average, they will be about 50% related.

For hymenopterans, it's not like this. What makes a male a male is that he is haploid - he has only one set of chromosomes and half the total of his diploid mother or sisters. His mother, the queen, doesn't even need a father to produce males, hence them missing the father part of the chromosomes.

When the queen has sex with a male, he only has one set of chromosomes to pass down. Every one of his sperms will be the same. That means that his daughters will always contain the same set of chromosomes from dad and be at least 50% related. Then they will also share some of the genes that mom pass down, on average 50% of those. Mom's contribution is 50% of the chromosomes, so 50% of 50% is 25%.

This means female worker bees/ants are on average 75% related.

If a worker bee would have a child of her own, she would only be 50% related to it. But if her mom produces another sister, that sister will be 75% related to her. So from the perspective of the selfish genes that inhabit a worker bee, it makes more sense in terms of fitness benefit to make sure the queen produces more siblings. It's better than sex. Hence, what may look like altruism is just selfishness in disguise and something that can lead to a high level of cooperation. Even if the worker bee dies, she can potentially have a huge fitness gain if her sacrifice ensured mom's continued baby making.

That's interesting and i honestly hadn't gotten into the specific math behind the genetics involved but my general impression initially was that the entire colony exists essentially as an extension of the queen. As I understand it, basically the queen is the reproducing agent and the workers exist only to assist in said reproduction. Though depending on the species this distinction can be more or less clear than in others.

In some species, IIRC, the other females aren't even sterile they just tend not to reproduce. I remember seeing a documentary where there were some worker ants in such a colony that would attempt to start laying their own eggs and they would be physically restrained and prevented from doing so by other worker ants. Then there are even more erusocial species of ants where the other female worker and soldier ants are just sterile and physically incapable of reproducing directly. In these species, the existence of the entire colony as an extension of the queen's reproduction apparatus seems more pronounced.

Now I'm seeing documentaries where there are super colonies that adopt multiple queens cohabitating and combining resources despite not being related genetically. The strategic advantages of these kinds of super colonies can be staggering. The kinds of numbers that can be produced can completely decimate any rival colonies nearby.

Essentially, ants have a specific scent based on certain pheromones that allow them to detect members of the same colony vs rival colonies. Typically if two ants from seperate colonies come into contact a war will ensure, even if they are the same species. But now there are super colonies where that isn't happening. Either they aren't acknowledging the scent or the scent is being altered somehow to be similar - I can't remember the exact mechanics of it but essentially the result is the colonies don't go to war and instead start cooperating as if they were members of the same colony.

The reason why i even gained such an interest in ants in the first place is not even due to the genetic factor of how traits are selected for but rather just down to the nature of intelligence in a colony. I think the term is collective swarm intelligence. They make decisions as a colony not based on a top down hierarchy, but from disparate nodes on a network sending signals to one another that allow the colony as a whole to function.

As such, the individual is dispensable. This is why they look so alien to us. They have a sophisticated intelligence with no conscious agent. They can make complex decisions as a colony that no individual ant can make. An individual ant is little more than a robot programmed through evolution to sustain the colony. That is how I conceptualize it at least. I'm not a scientist.

In fact I was watching a documentary last night where a supercolony of wood ants with multiple queens, some of the queen ants being dragged back down into the nest against their will. The queen doesn't call the shots. The colony acts as a collective entity more akin to an organism.

That once again highlights my interest with regard to the nature of intelligence. I think as humans we have a certain bias towards our own type of intelligence which is based on advanced cognition in a single individual that is capable of perceiving the world in very complex ways.

It seems very unlikely there is anything that could be construed as any sort of advanced 'perception' when speaking about ants. Individually the cognitive processes must be very primitive compared to higher-order mammals etc.

Yet in terms of the capacity to make complex decisions with a high degree of flexibility and adaptability such as where to find food, where and how to make a nest and regulate everything from its temperature to the resources necessary to keep it thriving, these colonies obviously display a certain level of intelligence that is not even reliant on what we would conceptualize as perception.

Such as in the case of the wood ant colony referenced above, the entire colony was sunbathing in order to harvest heat from the sun to bring back down into the nest in order to regulate the temperature. That is why the queens were brought out in the open and once they were warm enough, were brought back under whether they wanted to go willingly or not.

Maybe this decentralized structure is what makes them so resilient. In any case it's something that attracts my interest as it presents a sort of polar opposite approach to intelligence as opposed to the way human beings approach it.

To us, the idea of creating let's say an advanced AI is pretty much synonymous with creating an entity that is capable of the same sort of individualized cognition that human beings are capable of. We hardly even consider the prospect of disparate nodes on a network that are more or less completely unaware and primitive in terms of intelligence on an individual level but collectively allow for the emergent property of an advanced yet unconscious form of intelligence to manifest.

elphenor 05-30-2021 07:04 AM

lol

Neapolitan 05-30-2021 07:16 AM

You are evolving as a content provider at an alarming rate. In your Judaism thread you posted a video and was like yada yada yada I'll post later about the video. Here you dive straight into the world of ants writing at great length - producing dozens of paragraphs. You sir are a formidable Formicidae enthusiast. I did not know your expertise was in Myrmecology. Here I thought Myrmecology was the study of mermaids. Shows you how much I know. :rolleyes:

jwb 05-30-2021 09:57 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Neapolitan (Post 2174836)
You are evolving as a content provider at an alarming rate. In your Judaism thread you posted a video and was like yada yada yada I'll post later about the video. Here you dive straight into the world of ants writing at great length - producing dozens of paragraphs. You sir are a formidable Formicidae enthusiast. I did not know your expertise was in Myrmecology. Here I thought Myrmecology was the study of mermaids. Shows you how much I know. :rolleyes:

lol

I tried to isolate parts of that video I found interesting but the YouTube clipping sites I was using weren't working and I gave up rather quickly. I've had very little free time lately. I wanted to put in a decent amount of effort into articulating my thoughts on this subject because tore put in a decent amount of effort responding to my initially lazy question. It's not often I get to talk to someone who has any sort of expertise in this topic. I certainly have none and have pieced together my thoughts from various documentaries and YouTube videos. I think maybe he can help me clear up any misconceptions I might have. If him and I are the only ones who end up engaging in this topic I won't exactly be surprised or let down. But thank you for your contribution as always, neo. I'll always consider you my most loyal subscriber. :o:

Marie Monday 05-30-2021 10:23 AM

Yessss fANTastic

WWWP 05-30-2021 11:04 AM

Sounds pedANTic

Neapolitan 05-30-2021 11:25 AM

^I'm glad I see other replies, I was afraid this thread would become dormANT.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Neapolitan (Post 2174836)
You are evolving as a content provider at an alarming rate.

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb (Post 2174841)
lol

:beer:

Have you seen this movie? I only saw part of it as a kid. It's about ants.
TRIGGER WARNING: it's no where near a David Attenborough documentary on nature. It's about ants evolving at an alarming rate set on world domination.

Phase IV Trailer (1974)

Guybrush 05-30-2021 01:05 PM

Nice, jwb!

I don't have time for a lengthy reply atm, but I will comment quickly. I believe the way we talk about ants may be misleading. We call the reproducing females queens which indicate they are rulers. I think that's misleading. Flipping it, one might say the reproductive females are like handmaidens from The Handmaid's Tale. That would be misleading too, but perhaps slightly closer to a truth.

Most biologists would generally say that an anthill is comprised of selfish individuals that cooperate in a way so that everyone benefits. Or even more accurately, a group of cooperating selfish genes that use ants as their vehicles to take them into the future. This is generally what you would expect to emerge from natural selection.

Where that is not readily apparent and animals seem to act in an altruistic manner, there generally are interesting explanations why that is, such as the aforementioned haplodiploidi. A gene that increases the fitness of other genes at the expense of its own fitness will get weeded out over time by natural selection. Hence, altruism, while it may appear for various reasons, is not stable, but selfishness is. For general evolutionary theory, that should be the basic expectation. What looks like altruism tends to be either selfishness in disguise, a misplaced gamble or a selfish strategy in a situation which it is no longer ideally adapted to, making it altruistic and unstable.

For ants, science seem to say their ancestors were monogamous and this (along with haplodiploidity and a few other factors) would promote evolution into eusociality. When polygamy arises as a later characteristic, it can mean that eusociality is no longer stable and that these colonies are in fact being invaded and disrupted by selfish, exploitative strategies as we speak. This is quite common and I'll write a little more about that in another post, I think.

I haven't seen the documentary you've seen, but I do believe that if it is about eusociality/cooperation, then the story it tells may possibly be a little skewed and not tell the full picture.

I would be grateful if perhaps Marie or another mod could move my posts over from the Stupidest questions thread :)

Marie Monday 05-30-2021 02:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Guybrush (Post 2174862)
I would be grateful if perhaps Marie or another mod could move my posts over from the Stupidest questions thread :)

done :beer:

jwb 05-30-2021 03:25 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Marie Monday (Post 2174844)
Yessss fANTastic

Quote:

Originally Posted by WWWP (Post 2174849)
Sounds pedANTic



Quote:

Originally Posted by Neapolitan (Post 2174852)
^I'm glad I see other replies, I was afraid this thread would become dormANT

Are these really the best puns musicbANTer can come up with?

The Batlord 05-30-2021 03:46 PM

Hey buddy wanna argue about cANTSel culture?

jwb 05-30-2021 03:47 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Guybrush (Post 2174862)

Most biologists would generally say that an anthill is comprised of selfish individuals that cooperate in a way so that everyone benefits. Or even more accurately, a group of cooperating selfish genes that use ants as their vehicles to take them into the future. This is generally what you would expect to emerge from natural selection.

Where that is not readily apparent and animals seem to act in an altruistic manner, there generally are interesting explanations why that is, such as the aforementioned haplodiploidi. A gene that increases the fitness of other genes at the expense of its own fitness will get weeded out over time by natural selection. Hence, altruism, while it may appear for various reasons, is not stable, but selfishness is. For general evolutionary theory, that should be the basic expectation. [B]What looks like altruism tends to be either selfishness in disguise, a misplaced gamble or a selfish strategy in a situation which it is no longer ideally adapted to, making it altruistic and unstable.

I think some of the confusion comes from the language being used. To describe 'genes' as selfish is very different than to describe a person as selfish. Yet the later is the way we understand that term colloquially.

Like for example EO Wilson brings up how ants are programmed to leave the nest and die alone if they are injured, to no longer burden the colony with maintaining their existence. This is the exact opposite of what humans refer to as selfishness if you are breaking it down based on the best interest of the individual. It's clearly not in that individual ant's best interest. It's a sacrificial act that benefits the colony as a whole. You might say it benefits the specific genes the ant is carrying but then again, genes have no real agency and thus when we describe them as "selfish" it means something very different from the common parlance.




Quote:

For ants, science seem to say their ancestors were monogamous and this (along with haplodiploidity and a few other factors) would promote evolution into eusociality. When polygamy arises as a later characteristic, it can mean that eusociality is no longer stable and that these colonies are in fact being invaded and disrupted by selfish, exploitative strategies as we speak.
I have to say I'm not that clear on the distinction between monogamy and polygamy in ants. As far as I understand one queen typically lays all the eggs so are you saying that in the case of polygamous ants she is impregnated by multiple drones and lays eggs from each of them??? Or how does that work?

Marie Monday 05-30-2021 03:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb (Post 2174886)
Are these really the best puns musicbANTer can come up with?

don't ANTagonise me pal

unrelated fun fact: the Dutch word for nitpicking literally translates as antf*cking and I think it's a shame other languages haven't followed that excellant example

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb (Post 2174890)
I have to say I'm not that clear on the distinction between monogamy and polygamy in ants. As far as I understand one queen typically lays all the eggs so are you saying that in the case of polygamous ants she is impregnated by multiple drones and lays eggs from each of them??? Or how does that work?

so basically ant queens are huge sluts, which means they're also Queen of Thots? My cosmic connection to ants gets stronger the more I learn about them

The Batlord 05-30-2021 04:12 PM

Is prostitution a thot crime?

Marie Monday 05-30-2021 04:50 PM

what

Neapolitan 05-30-2021 05:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Marie Monday (Post 2174899)
what

Thought/thot crime. The Batlord is the ANTithesis of a comedian.

Marie Monday 05-30-2021 05:17 PM

these puns are becoming an embarassmant

Guybrush 05-30-2021 05:24 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb (Post 2174834)
That's interesting and i honestly hadn't gotten into the specific math behind the genetics involved but my general impression initially was that the entire colony exists essentially as an extension of the queen. As I understand it, basically the queen is the reproducing agent and the workers exist only to assist in said reproduction. Though depending on the species this distinction can be more or less clear than in others.
In some species, IIRC, the other females aren't even sterile they just tend not to reproduce.

[..]

Then there are even more erusocial species of ants where the other female worker and soldier ants are just sterile and physically incapable of reproducing directly. In these species, the existence of the entire colony as an extension of the queen's reproduction apparatus seems more pronounced.

To me, and as mentioned, it makes most sense to think of an anthill as a collection of selfish genes. I'm a little unsure how much to get into as the gene's eye view of evolution is rather a big topic, but perhaps that can be delved into deeper in a follow up. Suffice to say, genes are a bit like programs coding for ants. They tell the hosts/vehicles/robots (ants) what shape to develop into and what to behave like. If a gene is good at helping to make robots that it copies of itself can exist inside, then that gene will become numerous. If it is bad at this, it will become rarer and likely go extinct. This you already know, of course.

So it's easy to think that a gene that makes an animal more fertile or stronger might have a fitness benefit and do well in natural selection. But there is another important way for genes to be successful. Imagine that there was a gene that acted in such a manner that it took care of other individuals in which that gene also existed. Let's say such a gene finds itself existing inside two individuals. It could make those two individuals cooperate. In a world where everyone's an island, two individuals suddenly cooperating might be very competitive and give such a gene a huge fitness advantage. And when that gene's vehicles become more, the number of cooperative individuals increase, the strategy might even become better, doing progressively better in an environment that it itself is changing to its benefit.

So instead of increasing fitness merely by bettering the vehicle it finds itself in, a gene can also increase its fitness by making its vehicle cooperate with other individuals that are also likely to carry a copy of itself, such as close kin (hence the word kin selection). Forgoing one's own reproduction for the sake of helping another reproduce may seem extreme, but from the point of view of a gene, it can make just as much sense - or even more - than just chasing sex.

So for a gene finding itself inside an ant, there are some possible scenarios with following risks / trade-offs:
  • Ends up in a male. This is high risk as males fly away from their colonies. Likely, the gene will just die with the ant BUT if the ant has sex, it can make a lot of copies of itself
  • Ends up in a queen. Much like males, this is a high risk profession which will likely lead to death by bird or something similar, but also with a small chance of making lots of copies of itself
  • Ends up in a worker/soldier. Much less risk - they don't fly off so stay relatively safe in numbers. Although they don't stand to gain as much fitness as founding a new colony would, they are likely to get to increase their fitness in a myriad of ways by indirectly helping to make sure the queen makes more babies. Any female sibling is ~75% likely to hold a copy of that gene, so for the gene, an added sister is even better than a baby.

So for a single gene, it's not a given that it's better for a gene to find itself in a queen compared to a worker. Actually, being a worker is often probably the best strategy, also from a selfish (gene-centered) point of view.

Also, because queens come about by nurture rather than nature (by diet), you might make the case that the workers create queens (to whom they are 75% related) to go out and spread the workers' genes even further. Queens require more food, so this is something they might do more of if food is plenty. Again, queen seems like it might not be the right word for what they are.

I should perhaps reiterate that while sisters are not always 75% related on average today, it seems they were in the hymenopteran lineages back in the day when eusociality evolved.

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb
I remember seeing a documentary where there were some worker ants in such a colony that would attempt to start laying their own eggs and they would be physically restrained and prevented from doing so by other worker ants.

EDITED as I've read up on this. So workers may sometime produce their own males by laying unfertilized eggs.

IF the colony is polygamous, sisters may no longer reliably know their relatedness to other workers sons (if they have the same father, it will on average be 37,5% (75%/2). If they have different fathers, it will be 12,5%).

In that situation, kin selection theory seems to predict that both queen and workers should prefer the males coming from the queen rather than from other workers not themselves. Hence, the expectation is workers policing other worker's reproduction if the colony is polygamous.

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb
Now I'm seeing documentaries where there are super colonies that adopt multiple queens cohabitating and combining resources despite not being related genetically. The strategic advantages of these kinds of super colonies can be staggering. The kinds of numbers that can be produced can completely decimate any rival colonies nearby.

Essentially, ants have a specific scent based on certain pheromones that allow them to detect members of the same colony vs rival colonies. Typically if two ants from seperate colonies come into contact a war will ensure, even if they are the same species. But now there are super colonies where that isn't happening. Either they aren't acknowledging the scent or the scent is being altered somehow to be similar - I can't remember the exact mechanics of it but essentially the result is the colonies don't go to war and instead start cooperating as if they were members of the same colony.

I don't know what the current favoured explanations are for supercolonies, but I would expect that different colonies of ants working together might evolve if that is a better strategy than warring. We humans are great at this and ants could be too. However, I would not expect the bolded part (though it might be hyperbole and not to be taken exactly as written).

The reason is simple. Lets say you have a super colony consisting of 6 colonies with 6 queens. Let's say they all share food and all feed each others queens, take care of each others babies, etc. Let's arbitrarily say that in colony 4, the queen has a genetic mutation that makes her babies on average do less work on behalf of the other colonies that make up the supercolonies. Colony 4 would then have workers that are more focused on the wellbeing of colony 4 while simultaneously being cared for by the other colonies.

So basically, what you're proposing is not a situation I would think was stable, because it would be vulnerable to getting invaded by an exploitative strategy. Once such a strategy appeared, it would likely do better than the other strategies and potentially drive them to extinction. In the case above, colony 4 would probably have larger food stores, would produce more queens and they in turn would spread the exploitative mutation and outcompete the friendlier varieties.

Hence, though I might be wrong, I would expect the 6 colonies to cooperate in a more limited fashion. Although all colonies cooperate, there would be higher levels of cooperation inside each sub-colony.

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb
The reason why i even gained such an interest in ants in the first place is not even due to the genetic factor of how traits are selected for but rather just down to the nature of intelligence in a colony. I think the term is collective swarm intelligence. They make decisions as a colony not based on a top down hierarchy, but from disparate nodes on a network sending signals to one another that allow the colony as a whole to function.

As such, the individual is dispensable. This is why they look so alien to us. They have a sophisticated intelligence with no conscious agent. They can make complex decisions as a colony that no individual ant can make. An individual ant is little more than a robot programmed through evolution to sustain the colony. That is how I conceptualize it at least. I'm not a scientist.

I wouldn't say it's to sustain the colony, but rather to further its own genes. It's just these two goals have a lot in common and may be nearly indistinguishable from the outside. Otherwise, I think this is a great way of thinking about it.

Also, because ants are simple, they are also vulnerable. The genes may be constrained in a way by what ants can do. They're smart, but not super computers. A nice example of this are various insects and other creatures exploiting ants. There are various Myrmecophiles, non-ants that live inside ant hills. Several of these are in some way capable of giving off the right pheromones, thus tricking the ants into thinking they are part of the colony.

You probably also know of slave-keeping ants that raid other colonies and steal the babes. The babes, growing up with their captors, will follow their programming and tend to their captives' colony.

This is also important when trying to understand kin selection for ants. The way they know if someone is kin and likely to share their genes is by smell.. but as a system, it is quite simple and easily fooled/exploited. The system being prone to error could also be part of the explanation why ants do certain things that don't seem as selfish as they should be, optimally. If such errors were big enough, there would be a lot of evolutionary pressure on evolving a better system, but there might be some constraints to such evolution. The topic of constraints might be worth covering in a later post.

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb
In fact I was watching a documentary last night where a supercolony of wood ants with multiple queens, some of the queen ants being dragged back down into the nest against their will. The queen doesn't call the shots. The colony acts as a collective entity more akin to an organism.

All the worker ants have their fitness invested in their queens, so it makes sense they wouldn't let them act crazy :)

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb
That once again highlights my interest with regard to the nature of intelligence. I think as humans we have a certain bias towards our own type of intelligence which is based on advanced cognition in a single individual that is capable of perceiving the world in very complex ways.

It seems very unlikely there is anything that could be construed as any sort of advanced 'perception' when speaking about ants. Individually the cognitive processes must be very primitive compared to higher-order mammals etc.

Yet in terms of the capacity to make complex decisions with a high degree of flexibility and adaptability such as where to find food, where and how to make a nest and regulate everything from its temperature to the resources necessary to keep it thriving, these colonies obviously display a certain level of intelligence that is not even reliant on what we would conceptualize as perception.

Such as in the case of the wood ant colony referenced above, the entire colony was sunbathing in order to harvest heat from the sun to bring back down into the nest in order to regulate the temperature. That is why the queens were brought out in the open and once they were warm enough, were brought back under whether they wanted to go willingly or not.

Maybe this decentralized structure is what makes them so resilient. In any case it's something that attracts my interest as it presents a sort of polar opposite approach to intelligence as opposed to the way human beings approach it.

To us, the idea of creating let's say an advanced AI is pretty much synonymous with creating an entity that is capable of the same sort of individualized cognition that human beings are capable of. We hardly even consider the prospect of disparate nodes on a network that are more or less completely unaware and primitive in terms of intelligence on an individual level but collectively allow for the emergent property of an advanced yet unconscious form of intelligence to manifest.

I agree with you - it's really interesting. Incidentally, I have seen a couple or more attempts at making swarms of robots that interact much like ants. I believe the last one I saw took inspirations from ants making an ant-bridge across water.

I'm off to bed, but I might find a link tomorrow :)

Marie Monday 05-30-2021 05:38 PM

I love how this thread is 50% intelligent biology discussion and 50% demented ant jokes. It captures the MB spirit well

Guybrush 05-30-2021 06:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Marie Monday (Post 2174907)
I love how this thread is 50% intelligent biology discussion and 50% demented ant jokes. It captures the MB spirit well

It's great :love:

While I love biology, it's not every day I get to bore other people with it.

elphenor 05-30-2021 06:13 PM

uh
jwb like a textbook speaking that biology
logically,
drawing comparisons and ****, sociology
hands down his pants bust a nut to ants, no apology

Marie Monday 05-30-2021 06:48 PM

jwb's thirst for ant knowledge is frantic
guybrush to the rescue from across the Atlantic
science amidst the puns, play with sounds and semantics
then in comes Elph with his rap style antics

Guybrush 05-30-2021 07:04 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by jwb (Post 2174890)
EO Wilson brings up how ants are programmed to leave the nest and die alone if they are injured, to no longer burden the colony with maintaining their existence. This is the exact opposite of what humans refer to as selfishness if you are breaking it down based on the best interest of the individual. It's clearly not in that individual ant's best interest. It's a sacrificial act that benefits the colony as a whole. You might say it benefits the specific genes the ant is carrying but then again, genes have no real agency and thus when we describe them as "selfish" it means something very different from the common parlance.

Selfishness is a term used perhaps a little peculiarly in biology, but you nail it with the bolded part. Because the unit of evolution is the gene (I would argue), to understand why the act of wandering away to die has evolved, you have to look at the genes and take their perspective.

To them, anything they can do to help their copies live on and proliferate into the future, even inside other ants, is beneficial.

You're right that they have no agency and so can't be said to actually be selfish or have any kind of motive, but it's still often a useful way to think of it or communicate the way they compete and evolve. For example, exploitative strategies will tend to evolve if given the chance. Actual selfishness that humans and other animals exhibit is rooted in the way natural selection works on genes.

Quote:

I have to say I'm not that clear on the distinction between monogamy and polygamy in ants. As far as I understand one queen typically lays all the eggs so are you saying that in the case of polygamous ants she is impregnated by multiple drones and lays eggs from each of them??? Or how does that work?
Yes. The classic way of reproduction was a queen flies off to bang a single male and the two of them would become the parents to a whole colony.

This, coupled with males having just one set of chromosomes as opposed to the usual two, is what makes getting a new sister have a higher related fitness benefit than having a baby.

For a gene inside a worker, the chances for that gene to be copied to that worker's offspring is only 50%. The chance for that gene to have a copy inside a new sister is 75%. Hence, genes inside workers should promote the proliferation of sisters rather than own offspring.

This logic breaks down under polygamy, because workers with different fathers will be less related to eachother and less than what they would be to their own offspring. So polygamy may cause workers having sex to become a competitive strategy again. You mention some cases where workers might wanna bang and I would guess that might be in polygamous colonies where it can be an indicator that eusociality is in the process of breaking down.

rostasi 05-30-2021 07:08 PM


Lucem Ferre 05-30-2021 07:50 PM

So when an ant colony has infighting based on picking a new handmaid is that because each faction is loyal to the handmaid ant that shares more of their genes?

jwb 05-30-2021 10:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Marie Monday (Post 2174903)
these puns are becoming an embarassmant

they're almost starting to feel like punishment.

Tristan_Geoff 05-31-2021 03:11 AM

Prrsonally i prefer bees

Guybrush 05-31-2021 03:14 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Lucem Ferre (Post 2174925)
So when an ant colony has infighting based on picking a new handmaid is that because each faction is loyal to the handmaid ant that shares more of their genes?

Yes, exactly. This is something that happens under certain conditions. If several queens found a colony together, the queens will fight after emergence of the first workers. Then, workers may also get involved in an early in-house war, killing or throwing out queens. This occasionally also happens in mature colonies with multiple queens.

So although ant hills may seem like superorganisms, current evolutionary understanding does predict that because they are actually made up of selfish interests working together, there would be conflicts of interest and special cases like above where eusociality might completely break down, at least for a while.

Because it's an interesting subject, I've done a little bit of reading on that subject. This article was pretty good and is co-authored among others by Bert Hölldobler who has also been a collaborator with Wilson, but who is not a proponent of group selection (group selection support seems fringe).

I don't expect people to want to wade through that like I have, but a few reasons in-colony conflicts may exist are described.

In a monogamous single-queen colony, queens are as related to her male babies as she is to her female (50%). However, workers are 75% related to sisters and only 25% related to brothers. This means that workers are incentivized to care/invest more in female offspring (sisters) than they are in males (brothers). As such, the workers may work against the queen and her male offspring, working to skew the sex ratio between males and females to 3/4 females and 1/4th males, mirroring their level of relatedness. This could possibly done by feeding male eggs to female larvae (not sure if that happens). Studies on sex-ratio seem to suggest it is close to 3 females for every male which suggests that workers are in control of this aspect of colonies. HOWEVER nature is messy and I'm sure deviates from this ratio are abundant. One thing a queen can do in order to stop workers messing with her man-babies is to mate with several males. If she does, the relatedness between sisters should drop and so should their incentive to "mistreat" males. Observation in Fornica truncorum colony with several queens showed a higher ratio of males, seeming to support this hypothesis.

Another source of conflict is origin of males as workers are often capable of laying male eggs. This has been mentioned earlier and may lead to workers policing that kind of activity in colonies where the queen is a polygamist. Also the queen is incentivized to inhibit worker reproduction. Slave-keeping ants also prevent their slaves from having male offspring (which would they would not be related to at all and so would care nothing about).

Another source of conflict seem to be in ant species where the shapes (morphology) of ants are more similar. The typical queen is ideally suited for egg-laying while a worker is not, so this would reinforce how a worker should rather spread her own genes by using the queen as her sexual proxy. However, if queens and workers are physically more similar and more alike in capabilities, that seems to increase the level of violent conflict.

A few other kinds of conflicts that may appear:
  • Queens fighting other queens
  • Queens begging food more often from workers with bigger ovaries (which may reproduce), thus keeping them from reproducing
  • In the genus Diacamma, morphologically distinct queens do not exist. Instead, a worker tries to monopolize reproduction by mutilating larvae after emergence so that new workers cannot sexually reproduce themselves.

I still have not yet read Wilson himself, but he is referenced in this paper saying that he believes some colonies to achieve superorganism status if the level of conflict/competition within a colony dies down enough. The authors of the paper conclude that calling ant hills superorganism or suggest they may be a unit of evolution in itself is difficult as it would be hard to separate the levels at which selection occurs. They write somewhat diplomatically (to my mind) that the concept is a useful heuristic device.

To my mind, a problem with group selection arguments are that they don't explain the evolution of conflicts and related behaviours like mentioned above. It leads to misunderstandings, making people ignorant of the constant presence of conflict, exploitation and competition that exists inside populations. Animals don't do things for the good of the colony/populations, but for themselves (or rather their genes). The predictions that arise from this fits observations beautifully. I also don't (yet) know what mechanisms are suggested for group selection, so there's that.

jwb, although you may be on Wilson's team in this (?), I implore you to pick up and read The Selfish Gene :) Although it is quite old (its 50th anniversary will come up in a couple of years), it is still relevant and I'm relatively sure it will blow your mind in a good way. It is just a genius piece of work and my favorite bit of scientific litterature. In terms of understanding evolution, it was a big eye-opener, more so than any uni lectures I can remember.

Guybrush 05-31-2021 03:43 AM

Now this may BORE you, but I just wanted to quickly mention a concept in evolutionary theory which may also help understand how populations (even anthills) work and evolve.

The concept is evolutionary stable states. I believe the example in The Selfish Gene is birds grooming eachother, so we can use that. Let's say a gene mutates in a population of birds, creating a new version of a gene that makes birds cooperate in grooming. There are places on the bird body that birds can't get to without help, so this grooming gene is very successful. If you could have a population where all birds groom eachother, that would actually increase the reproductive fitness for all, maximizing the reproductive output of the population.

From a group selection point of view, one might think that's a feasible scenario, that a gene could randomly appear and become and stay "fixed" (becoming the only variety of that gene) because it works in the population's interests. But this is not what happens.

What happens instead is that in an environment where more and more birds groom eachother, selfish birds will do increasingly well. After all, a completely selfish bird in a population of altruists would enjoy the grooming of everyone else while never having to spend resources reciprocating. As a result, this bird would have a higher fitness than the altruists and so its selfish genes would spread through the population, destroying any chance of the population reaching an optimal in terms of reproductive output.

Similarly, the cooperative version of the gene does better when the population has many selfishs in it. As a result, the most likely scenario is that the ratio of groomers and non-groomers would tend towards stabilization at a ratio where the fitness difference between the two strategies is minimized. So if cooperators become too many, selfishness will be the best strategy and natural selection pushes the ratio of unselfish individuals back down towards the stable ratio again. It might be 20% selfish individuals and 80% unselfish. Such a ratio is what is known as an evolutionary stable state.

These systems may continue to evolve measures and counter measures, such as animals perhaps trying to identify selfish individuals before grooming them and more advanced manipulation behaviours from the selfish individuals.

Lucem Ferre 05-31-2021 04:21 PM

I think it's interesting.

Also interesting that we knew so much about ants long before we even completely found out what a clitoris is.

I guess that's another point for the ants' matriarchal commune as long as you're okay with the ethnic cleansing.

jwb 05-31-2021 09:01 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Guybrush (Post 2174905)



I don't know what the current favoured explanations are for supercolonies, but I would expect that different colonies of ants working together might evolve if that is a better strategy than warring. We humans are great at this and ants could be too. However, I would not expect the bolded part (though it might be hyperbole and not to be taken exactly as written).

The reason is simple. Lets say you have a super colony consisting of 6 colonies with 6 queens. Let's say they all share food and all feed each others queens, take care of each others babies, etc. Let's arbitrarily say that in colony 4, the queen has a genetic mutation that makes her babies on average do less work on behalf of the other colonies that make up the supercolonies. Colony 4 would then have workers that are more focused on the wellbeing of colony 4 while simultaneously being cared for by the other colonies.

So basically, what you're proposing is not a situation I would think was stable, because it would be vulnerable to getting invaded by an exploitative strategy. Once such a strategy appeared, it would likely do better than the other strategies and potentially drive them to extinction. In the case above, colony 4 would probably have larger food stores, would produce more queens and they in turn would spread the exploitative mutation and outcompete the friendlier varieties.

Hence, though I might be wrong, I would expect the 6 colonies to cooperate in a more limited fashion. Although all colonies cooperate, there would be higher levels of cooperation inside each sub-colony.

I don't have time to respond to or even to properly ingest everything you've said thus far as I'm working on very limited time and energy, though I will definitely return to say more I would just quickly respond to this.

You should go on YouTube and look at bbc empire of the ants with Attenborough. It shows just such a super colony which he says has millions of queens. Sharing food and cooperating in farming aphids, etc. Maybe it's a more recent observation or maybe they're lying. But that'd definitely the impression they give.


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