Big and mean seems to beat small and green, at least among ants

March 2, 2011

( -- Small ants may use fewer resources, but energy-hogging big ants tend to win evolution's turf wars, according to a study by Yale scientists.

Scientists had believed that, at the population level at least, the body size of individuals made no difference in the amount of energy used. Small individuals use less energy, but they tend to be more numerous than large individuals, who generally use more. The theory held that, at the population level, energy use is the same because size and abundance cancel each other out.

But when actually tested, this energy equivalence rule proved wrong — at least with insect colonies, according to the study published in the March 2 issue of .

Colonies of large use more energy as measured in metabolic rates than colonies made up of smaller ants, giving larger species an ecological and evolutionary leg up, said John P. DeLong of Yale's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and author of the study

"The process seems to be that as individuals get bigger, they are more successful at obtaining resources, which creates a positive feedback that allows for colony expansion," DeLong said.

In other words, bigger body size — and increased energy use — seems to confer an evolutionary advantage, DeLong said.

But ants don't drill for oil or decide to whether to drive a Prius or a Hummer, he noted.

"Fundamentally, we don't understand what drives us to use what we use," DeLong said. "If we allow ourselves to think of energy use as a long-term evolutionary phenomenon, then the hope is we can get a better handle on how to manage our energy future."

Explore further: Long-term co-evolution stability studied

Related Stories

Long-term co-evolution stability studied

June 27, 2006

U.S. biologists say the world's fungus-farming ants cultivate essentially the same fungus and aren't as critical to fungi reproduction as had been thought.

Study suggests theory for insect colonies as 'superorganisms'

January 19, 2010

New A team of researchers including scientists from the University of Florida has shown insect colonies follow some of the same biological "rules" as individuals, a finding that suggests insect societies operate like a single ...

Ant colonies shed light on metabolism

August 26, 2010

Ants are usually regarded as the unwanted guests at a picnic. But a recent study of California seed harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex californicus) examining their metabolic rate in relation to colony size may lead to a better ...

Recommended for you

'Hog-nosed rat' discovered in Indonesia

October 6, 2015

Museum of Natural Science Curator of Mammals Jake Esselstyn at Louisiana State University and his international collaborators have discovered a new genus and species on a remote, mountainous island in Indonesia. This new ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.