A group of elements or individuals of the same type, which coexist in a correlated way, but are still able to maintain their own autonomy, or, at least, to recuperate it.
A colony is not an integrated system, nor even a semi-integrated one on its way to organizational closure. Elements or subsystems retain their autonomy and their autopoiesis at their own level (F. ROBB, 1989, p.61).
In a colony, even eventual specialization of the elements does not imply irreversibility, nor definitive subservience to the whole. For example, some colonies of poplar trees may become very extended and quite old. But even then, the individual trees, while all offsprings of the same original one, do not become functionally differenciated.
The case is somewhat different with colonial animals, like sponges where structural differentiation do exist, but can be reversed.
At the extreme limit of colonial existence, the social phase of the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum, is irreversible and, after sporulation of some of the individuals at the top of the structure, all the others die and, when favourable conditions reappear, there is a reversal to individual existence, starting from the dormant spores.
It remains arguable if, somehow, a colony-stage may or may not open the road towards an autopoietic system. In effect, there seems to exist a progressive transformation in the organizational dynamics of social insects. In D.M. GORDON's words: "It seems that task allocation is channeled into more consistent patterns in the older colonies". More mature ants colonies also seem to learn how to prevent reciprocal encroachment on their foraging range. (1995, p.53).
According to some eco-ethological cases studies "… the costs and benefits of coloniality vary markedly with such factors as group size, the frequency of predation, exposure to parasites, etc…". P. Corning gives numerous examples in one of his papers on synergisms (1998b, p.21).
These intriguing features could be of very high interest for the study of the present process of organization, conflict avoidance and globalization of the human species.
For interesting observations about colonies, see J.T. BONNER (1955, 1988).
- 1) General information
- 2) Methodology or model
- 3) Epistemology, ontology and semantics
- 4) Human sciences
- 5) Discipline oriented
To cite this page, please use the following information:
Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]
We thank the following partners for making the open access of this volume possible: