Organisms grow, reproduce and die (Chapter 4). They are affected by the conditions in which they live (Chapter 2), and by the resources that they obtain (Chapter 3). But no organism lives in isolation. Each, for at least part of its life, is a member of a population composed of individuals of its own species.
Individuals of the same species have very similar requirements for survival, growth and reproduction; but their combined demand for a resource may exceed the immediate supply. The individuals then compete for the resource and, not surprisingly, at least some of them become deprived. This chapter is concerned with the nature of such intraspecific competition, its effects on the competing individuals and on populations of competing individuals. We begin with a working definition: 'competition is an interaction between individuals, brought about by a shared requirement for a resource, and leading to a reduction in the survivorship, growth and/or reproduction of at least some of the competing individuals concerned'. We can now look more closely at competition.
Consider, initially, a simple hypothetical community: a thriving population of grasshoppers (all of one species) feeding on a field of grass (also of one species). To provide themselves with energy and material for growth and reproduction, grasshoppers eat grass; but in order to find and consume that grass they must use energy. Any grasshopper might find itself at a spot where there is no grass because some other grasshopper has eaten it. The grasshopper must then move on and expend more energy before it takes in food. The more grasshoppers there are, the more often this will happen. An increased energy expenditure and a decreased rate of food intake may all decrease a grasshopper's chances of survival, and also leave less energy available for development and reproduction. Survival and reproduction determine a grasshopper's contribution to the next generation. Hence, the more intraspecific competitors for food a grasshopper has, the less its likely contribution will be.
As far as the grass itself is concerned, an isolated seedling in fertile soil may have a very high chance of surviving to reproductive maturity. It will probably exhibit an extensive amount of modular growth, and will probably therefore eventually produce a large number of seeds. However, a seedling that is closely surrounded by neighbors (shading it with their leaves and depleting the water and nutrients of its soil with their roots) will be very unlikely to survive, and if it does, will almost certainly form few modules and set few seeds.
We can see immediately that the ultimate effect of competition on an individual is a decreased contribution to the next generation compared with what would have happened had there been no competitors. Intraspecific competition typically leads to decreased rates of resource intake per individual, and thus to decreased rates of individual growth or development, or perhaps to decreases in the amounts of stored reserves or to increased risks of predation. These may lead, in turn, to decreases in survivorship and/or decreases in fecundity, which together determine an individual's reproductive output.
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