Cooperation and conflict in a tropical insect society - Wolff Ramanujan Lecture
Conférence sur les insectes sociaux du Pr Raghavendra Gadagkar, président de l'Indian National Science Academy
Delhi, Centre for Ecological Sciences & Centre for Contemporary Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, 560012, India
Many insects such as ants, bees and wasps organize themselves into societies with sophisticated organization, communication and division of labour, paralleling and sometimes surpassing our own societies. We therefore have a natural curiosity to understand how these tiny insects can achieve such feats of social organization. What are the rules that govern their lives and how does a bee or a wasp know what to do when? How do they balance the opposing forces of cooperation and conflict that must be inevitable in their social life? In this talk I will illustrate the efforts of my research group to understand the workings of the primitively eusocial wasp Ropalidia marginata in peninsular India. My goal will not merely be to convey the product of our research but even more to describe the process of our science, our methodology and the logic that drives our experiments and interpretations. I will conclude by reflecting on what we can learn from insect societies and argue that understanding insect societies helps us to reflect on how and why we live our lives the way we do and thus to better understand ourselves.