Are insect colonies like cities?

A while back I covered research on sublinear scaling of various stripes, all related to population—hunter-gatherer home ranges (and why that means we’re prewired for density), place names and population density, and why mature forests have fewer, but larger, trees. Cities, too, follow a similar sublinear trend when it comes to infrastructure requirements for a given population. So does metabolism and body mass, which is really what got the whole sublinear scaling thing off to the races.

Now, Samuel Arbesman found another place where sublinear metabolic scaling rears its head:

More recently, this has been explored in cities, and it has been found that infrastructure and energy usage can scale sublinearly (larger cities have fewer gas stations per capita, for example), but productivity and innovation often scale superlinearly — we get increasing returns for patents and ideas in cities.

So the natural question is then, What about insect colonies? Insect colonies are in that weird liminal space between individual organisms and cities. Several years ago, a team of researchers set out to answer this question.

Head over to Arbesman’s blog for more.

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