Data Supports Usefulness of the Superorganism Concept
The passage above, from page 230 of the conclusion of AAA, expresses my hope that science will come to understand "the basic functioning of an ant colony the same way a physician understands a human body." That hope has been realized in part by the two publications below. A team of scientists detected remarkable correlations between the physiological attributes of whole ant colonies and those of organisms, as well as their lifespans, growth, and reproduction. What such patterns mean is not entirely clear. The authors point out that features unique to colonies, such as the structure of their nests, might help explain some of them. There's no reason to assume similar patterns couldn't emerge as well in more temporary groups of animals, such as herds of mammals or clusters of nesting birds. Still, metabolic and reproductive characteristics can now be added to the list of trends with increasing size shared by social insect colonies and organisms, among them greater specialization (more types of workers or cells), heavier reliance on infrastructure (for example complex trail systems or cardiovascular systems) and emergence of intermediate organizational levels, such as groups coordinated into assembly lines.