New scientific content in the book, Adventures Among Ants

1) I give the first detailed treatment of the foraging strategy that allows army ants to attack en masse (summarized on pages 22-23) and provide a hypothesis about the origins this mass hunting behavior (which I believe arose from accelerated trail production: pages 107-108).

2) Leafcutter ants grow a domesticated fungus, making them one of the few agricultural species other than humans. With input from several anthropologists investigating the origins of human agriculture, and building on an excellent 2006 review by Ted Schultz and colleagues, I show in Chapter 15 that the evolution of leafcutter gardening has strik­ing parallels to the history of farming in humans, including such details as the use of pesticides and the genetic control of their crops.

3) I put forward a hypothesis about the origin of slavery in ants (namely, that it is an alternative to food hoarding, pages 167-168), and provide the first discussion of slavery for animals generally (page 155).

4) The book describes what appears to be the first "cleaner ant" (an ant species that licks other ants in a manner paralleling the behavior of marine "cleaning fish:" pages 191-192).

5) Throughout the book I document parallel trends for ants and humans between the size of a society and its complexity (for example in communi­cations, physical infrastruc­ture, life tempo, division of labor, assembly lines and teamwork and other patterns drawn from the literature, summarized on page 223).

6) I document that warfare as unique to ants and humans, and attribute this to the uniquely large size of their largest societies, which possess an excess labor force available for large-scale confrontations (pages 123 and 128).

7) Certain ants form supercolonies: societies that expand to billions of individuals (see Chapters 16, 17). I draw the conclusion that each of these societies can act as an independent species (pages 217-218: see The Scientist).

8) In my conclusions, I present more detail than seen elsewhere on the common­alities between societies and organisms (the superorganism concept).

9) I evalu­ate the superorganism concept, and align it with what other experts are finding out about organisms (see the book section starting on page 228). I propose that the most valuable criterion for a superorganism is the existence of a common identity that binds ant workers into a single, unitary whole, much like the cells within a human body. Identity has not been treated as central in the study of sociobiology, which I believe is a mistake.

Some additional points.

Additionally, Adventures Among Ants is the first publication to describe: the distribution of army-ant-style hunting in animals other than ants (page 31); the apparent loss of such group hunting in one army ant species (page 105); the widespread confusion caused by biologists mistaking harvesting food with foraging (e.g., page 19); how ants find their way to the nest by "go­ing with the flow" (pages 49-51); the relative insignificance of migrations to distinguishing army ants from other ants (page 60); the first survey of the group transport of food among animals (page 62); a novel discussion of the inefficiency of army ants (pages 77-79) and the capacity of army ants to handle patchy food (pages 82-84); how confounding predation and defense has led researchers to mistakenly conclude that ants build traps to catch prey (pages 94-95); the signi­ficance of success without diversity among the ants (running contrary to most descriptions of biological success in terms of biodiversity: pages 122 and 217); the likely importan­ce of ant mosaics to the maintenance of tropical species diversity (pages 132-133); new ideas how and why ants glide from trees (page 136); the first review of swimming in ants (pages 140-142); and a description of how ant colonies serve as insect versions of large organisms (pages 144-145).

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mark,
    I'm posting comments on your book as I read through it:

    I suppose I'll be evaluating some of these points as I move along.


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