The Daily Ant is launching a weekly series, Philosophy Phridays, in which real philosophers share their thoughts at the intersection of ants and philosophy. This is the first contribution in the series, submitted by Dr. Eli Hirsch.

As a philosopher who knows little about the details of evolutionary theory, I find it hard to understand questions about the evolution of ants. It seems often to be assumed that there are specific features that ants possess because of the “survival value” of such features. This makes very little sense to me. I find it very hard to believe that there are any features at all that can be viewed as having survival value for ants.

Every living thing needs nutrients. Much previous work has shown that a variety of soil nutrients – in particular Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K) – greatly impact plant communities. Often, human behaviors, especially agricultural practices like fertilization, have generated significant shifts in these nutrients. When environments become flushed with these nutrients, overall biomass typically increases but biodiversity often decreases. This is expected according to two hypotheses:

  1. Nutrient Limitation Hypothesis: Limitations in nutrients suppress abundance, and therefore increases in nutrients will drive increased abundance.
  2. Community Homogenization Hypothesis: Species that are most efficient at utilizing resources are prevented from completely excluding other species due to resource limitations. Therefore, increases in nutrients will allow these species to competitively exclude other species, decreasing overall diversity.