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Bert Hölldobler to Give Talk at UC Riverside on Superorganisms


Leading Entomologist to Give Talk at UC Riverside on Communication and Cooperation in Ant Societies

Pulitzer Prize recipient Bert Hölldobler is an internationally renowned expert on the evolution of social organizations in insects

(March 3, 2010)

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Bert Hölldobler is the Foundation Professor of Life Sciences at Arizona State University.  He will give the 2010 Alfred M. Boyce Lecture at UC Riverside.  Photo credit: Dave Tevis, Arizona State University. Enlarge

Bert Hölldobler is the Foundation Professor of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. He will give the 2010 Alfred M. Boyce Lecture at UC Riverside. Photo credit: Dave Tevis, Arizona State University.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Bert Hölldobler, one of the world’s great ant experts and Foundation Professor of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, will give the 2010 Alfred M. Boyce Lecture at the University of California, Riverside on Monday, March 8.

His lecture, titled “The Superorganism: Communication and Cooperation in Ant Societies,” will take place at 4 p.m. in the Genomics Auditorium, Room 1102A, followed by a reception at 5 p.m. in the Entomology Department Courtyard. Both the talk and the reception are free of charge and open to the public.

Superorganisms are insect societies in which vast numbers of often tightly entangled and socially interdependent insects function as a single organism.

Ant societies, which are superorganisms, rely upon successful communication through chemical and mechanical signaling on both inter-individual and pan-society levels, as well as on a division of labor between hundreds of thousands of individual organisms.

The sophistication with which the ants combine different signal modalities into “syntax” has important implications for the evolution of social grouping and communication. Similar to human tribes in New Guinea, certain ant species engage in ritualized tournaments with other ant societies in order to collectively communicate size, strength and “resource holding potential.”

Hölldobler explained that in tightly organized social groups, contests for limited resources are usually not between single individuals; instead groups of individuals compete as units. According to him, in such cases, differences in the number of individuals per group determine the contest’s outcome.

Prior to becoming a faculty member at Arizona State University, Hölldobler served as the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University and held the Chair of Behavioral Physiology and Sociobiology at the University of Würzburg, Germany. Currently, he is also the Andrew D. White Professor at Large at Cornell University.

Hölldobler was educated at the universities of Würzburg and Frankfurt. He is a member of several national and international academies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the German National Academy of Sciences. The author or coauthor of more than 300 scientific research papers, he is the recipient of numerous international prizes.

Hölldobler’s book (coauthored with E. O. Wilson) The Ants was awarded the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction writing and ranked as number 27 out of the top 100 nonfiction books of the century by Random House Publishers. His book The Superorganism was ranked among the top books of 2008 by the New York Times and named the Best Science Book of the year by the Financial Times.

At Arizona State University, Hölldobler plays a seminal role in developing the new social insect research group at the School of Life Sciences, while continuing to be involved with the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard and the University of Würzburg.

The Boyce lectures were instituted in 1977 and honor Alfred M. Boyce (1901-1997), one of the world’s leading authorities on insects and mites that attack citrus and walnuts. Boyce served as the director of the UCR Citrus Experiment Station, first dean of the College of Agriculture, and assistant director of the statewide Agricultural Experiment Station.

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