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12.7: Competition

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    What does it mean to compete?

    If you are in competition with someone, it usually means you are in a contest for a prize. The prize might just be bragging rights. In nature, the stakes are higher. Organisms must compete for resources necessary for life.


    Recall that ecology is the study of how living organisms interact with each other and with their environment. But how do organisms interact with each other? Organisms interact with each other through various mechanisms, one of which is competition. Competition occurs when organisms strive for limited resources. Competition can be for food, water, light, or space. This interaction can be between organisms of the same species (intraspecific) or between organisms of different species (interspecific).

    Intraspecific competition happens when members of the same species compete for the same resources. For example, two trees may grow close together and compete for light. One may out-compete the other by growing taller to get more available light. As members of the same species are usually genetically different, they have different characteristics, and in this example, one tree grows taller than the other. The organism that is better adapted to that environment is better able to survive. The other organism may not survive. In this example, it is the taller tree that is better adapted to the environment.

    Interspecific competition happens when individuals of different species strive for a limited resource in the same area. Since any two species have different traits, one species will be able to out-compete the other. One species will be better adapted to its environment, and essentially "win" the competition. The other species will have lower reproductive success and lower population growth, resulting in a lower survival rate. For example, cheetahs and lions feed on similar prey. If prey is limited, then lions may catch more prey than cheetahs. This will force the cheetahs to either leave the area or suffer a decrease in population.

    Looking at different types of competition, ecologists developed the competitive exclusion principle. The principle states that species less suited to compete for resources will either adapt, move from the area, or die out. In order for two species within the same area to coexist, they may adapt by developing different specializations. This is known as character displacement. An example of character displacement is when different birds adapt to eating different types of food. They can develop different types of bills, like Darwin’s Finches (Figure below). Therefore, competition for resources within and between species plays an important role in evolution through natural selection.

    These finches exhibit character displacement by adapting to eating different types of food
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): An example of character displacement, showing different types of bill for eating different types of foods, in Darwin’s or Galapagos Finches.


    • Competition, or when organisms strive for limited resources, can be between organisms of the same species (intraspecific) or organisms of different species (interspecific).
    • In order for two species within the same area to coexist, they may develop different specializations; this is known as character displacement.

    Explore More

    Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

    1. What sort of competition are these anemones displaying?
    2. Looking at the size of the sea anemones in this video, are you surprised by the amount of space they they feel they need? Explain your answer.
    3. What must be true about the costs in energy of anemone fighting? What would happen to the population if this were not the case?


    1. What is the difference between intraspecific and interspecific competition?
    2. What is the competitive exclusion principle?
    3. How can competition contribute to evolution through natural selection?
    4. What has to be true about available resources for competition to exist?

    This page titled 12.7: Competition is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by CK-12 Foundation via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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