Colonies Are Individuals: Revisiting the Superorganism Revival
Haber (Matt)
Source: F. Bouchard and P. Huneman (eds), From Groups to Individuals: Evolution and Emerging Individuality, The Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013)
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. Superorganism accounts of colonies typically follow either a similarity or selection approach.
    1. Similarity approaches appeal to the ways in which some colonies are like organisms. These fall prey to problems of precision, lack of specificity, and tend to obscure relevant ways in which colonies are dissimilar to organisms.
    2. Selection approaches make appeal to how colonies may participate in natural selection, much like other individuals. Unfortunately, selection approaches link definitions of superorganisms tightly to particular accounts of selection (and, typically, fitness), leaving these accounts more brittle than need be, while often pushing other evolutionary, developmental and ecological processes into the background.
  2. Rather than adopting either of these approaches, I recommend adopting an account of colonies as individuals and a rank-free approach to biological hierarchy. This preserves much of what is desirable in selection approaches by requiring appeal to biological theory, yet allows space for evolutionary, developmental, ecological and other theoretical frameworks. It also avoids the pernicious imprecision so often found in appeals to similarity, instead placing such appeals firmly in an evolutionary context.

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