Deconstructing Superorganisms and Societies to Address Big Questions in Biology

Patrick Kennedy, Gemma Baron, Bitao Qiu, Dalial Freitak, Heikki Helantera, Edmund R. Hunt, Fabio Manfredini, Thomas O'Shea-Wheller, Solenn Patalano, Christopher D. Pull, Takao Sasaki, Daisy Taylor, Christopher D. R. Wyatt, Seirian Sumner* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Social insect societies are long-standing models for understanding social behaviour and evolution. Unlike other advanced biological societies (such as the multicellular body), the component parts of social insect societies can be easily deconstructed and manipulated. Recent methodological and theoretical innovations have exploited this trait to address an expanded range of biological questions. We illustrate the broadening range of biological insight coming from social insect biology with four examples. These new frontiers promote open-minded, interdisciplinary exploration of one of the richest and most complex of biological phenomena: sociality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)861-872
Number of pages12
JournalTrends in Ecology & Evolution
Issue number11
Early online date9 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

We thank participants at the International Union for the Study of Social Insects (North West Europe Section) for their invaluable contributions to discussions on these topics at the Winter Meeting of 2015, at the University of Bristol. We also thank A.F.G. Bourke, M.J.F. Brown and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.


  • automated monitoring
  • eusociality
  • genomics
  • model organisms
  • social behavior
  • superorganism


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