In 'Altruism and the Origin of the Worker Caste,' Bert Hölldobler and Edward Osborne Wilson explore the evolutionary origins of worker ants. 'Altruism and the Origin of the Worker Caste' is the fourth chapter of Hölldobler and Wilson's book, The Ants, which was published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1990. In 'Altruism and the Origin of the Worker Caste,' Hölldobler and Wilson evaluate various explanations for how a non-reproductive caste of ant evolved. Their investigation into the evolutionary origins of worker ants synthesized research on the reproductive practices of ants to provide an analysis of how sterile groups of organisms persist in a population.
Berthold Karl Hölldobler studied social insects like ants in Europe and the US during the twentieth and early twenty-first century. He focused on the social behavior of ants, the evolutionary origins of social insects, and the way ants use chemicals to communicate with each other. Hölldobler’s research reached popular audiences through his co-authored Pulitzer Prize winning book The Ants and through an award winning nature documentary called Ameisen: Die heimliche Weltmacht (Ants: Nature’s Secret Power). Hölldobler researched reproductive practices in specific ant species and helped explain how reproductive practices influence, and are influenced by, social behaviors.
Between 1991 and 1994, Christian Peeters and Bert Hölldobler studied the reproductive behaviors of the Indian jumping ant (Harpegnathos saltator), a species native to southern India. They conducted experiments as part of a larger investigation into conflict and reproductive behavior among ants. Peeters and Hölldobler discovered that Indian jumping ant colonies contained both sexually reproductive workers and egg-laying queens. In most other species of ant, the queens are the only sexually reproductive individuals. After conducting their experiments, Peeters and Hölldobler argued that queens and sexually reproductive workers cooperated in the Indian jumping ant species to establish and preserve new colonies.
In “Testing the Kin Selection Theory: Who Controls the Investments?” Bert Hölldobler and Edward Osborne Wilson discussed the predictive power of kin selection theory, a theory about the evolution of social behaviors. As part of Hölldobler's and Wilson's 1990 book titled The Ants, Hölldobler and Wilson compared predictions about the reproductive practices of ants to data about the reproductive practices of ants. They showed that the data generally supported the expected behaviors proposed by kin selection theory. Later in their careers, both Hölldobler and Wilson argued that kin selection theory provided an insufficient explanation for the evolution of social behavior. Hölldobler and Wilsons' efforts were emblematic of a larger trend among ant researchers and sociobiologists to explain the evolution of social behavior by focusing on the reproductive dynamics of social organisms.
Ameisen: Die heimliche Weltmacht (Ants: Nature’s Secret Power) is a nature documentary about ants. Wolfgang Thaler wrote, filmed, and directed the film, which focuses on the work of ant researcher Bert Hölldobler. The 2004 film was produced by Adi Mayer Film for Österreichischer Rundfunk (Austrian Broadcasting), a public service broadcaster headquartered in Vienna, Austria. Ants: Nature’s Secret Power (Ants) surveys the adaptive and reproductive behaviors of a variety of ant species in both laboratory and natural settings. Thaler’s and Hölldoblers’ film communicated the reproductive practices of ants to a popular audience in an accessible manner, familiarizing the public with rarely seen aspects of ants.