Bert Hölldobler: Why Term 'Superorganism' Should Be Limited in Use

Superorganism: It's a term that should be limited in use, says Pulitzer-Prize winner Bert Hölldobler, one of the world's leading ant experts.

Bert Hölldobler, an evolutionary biologist based at Arizona State University who researches the evolution and social organization in ants, will discuss "The Superorganism: Communication, Cooperation and Conflict in Ant Societies" at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's seminar on Wednesday, April 17 at 4:10 p.m. in Room 122 of Briggs Hall.

Hölldobler says that colonies that are "true superorganisms, show great cooperation among their nest mates and exhibit fierce aggression against neighboring conspecific colonies and display complex territorial strategies."

His experimental and theoretical contributions cover sociobiology, behavioral ecology, and chemical ecology.  "His primary study subjects are social insects and in particular ants," according to Wikipedia. "His work has provided valuable insights into mating strategies, regulation of reproduction, the evolution of social parasitism, chemical communications, and the concept of 'superorganisms.'"

Hölldobler and co-author E. O. Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction writing in 1990 for their book, The Ants. They also co-authored The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies and Journey to the Ants: A Journey of Scientific Exploration. Hölldobler is also the author of The Leafcutter Ants.

Born in Bavaria, Germany on June 25, 1936, Bert studied biology and chemistry at the University of Würzburg. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the social behavior of the male carpenter ant and their role in the organization of carpenter ant societies.

Hölldobler began his academic career at the University of Frankfurt in 1971 as a professor of zoology. From 1973 to 1990 he served as professor of biology and the Alexander Agassiz professor of zoology at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.  Hölldobler returned to Germany in 1989 to accept the chair of behavioral physiology and sociobiology at the Theodor-Boveri-Institute of the University of Würzburg.

From 2002 to 2008, Hölldobler was an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Since his retirement in 2004, he has worked  at Arizona State University (ASU) as a professor and research scientist. A Regents' and Foundation professor, he is one of the founders of the Social Insect Research Group (SIRG) and of the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity.

 The seminars are coordinated by medical entomologist/assistant professor Geoffrey Attardo and take place at 4:10 p.m. every Wednesday through June 5 in 122 Briggs Hall. (See list of seminars)