Competition is a fundamental process that shapes ecological communities and influences the distribution, abundance, and evolution of species over time. In this article, we will discuss the concept of competition in more detail and provide twelve examples of different types of competition relationships in nature.
Competition can occur between individuals of the same species, which is known as intraspecific competition, or between individuals of different species, referred to as interspecific competition.
With limited resources on the planet, both levels of competition are commonplace, and many species have evolved clever adaptations to outcompete their biological rivals.
12 examples of competition relationships
Competition is a common phenomenon in nature, where different species compete for the same limited resources in their environment. These resources can be anything that is essential for survival, such as food, water, sunlight, space, or shelter.
1. Lions vs. hyenas
Lions and hyenas are both large carnivorous predators that often compete for the same prey, such as zebras and wildebeest, in African savanna ecosystems. Lions are better hunters and may consume a larger share of the prey, leaving less for the hyenas.
However, hyenas are more adaptable and may be able to survive on other food sources if necessary. Because of this, hyenas sometimes scavenge the food of lions once they have had their fill.
2. Trees vs. other trees
In a forest ecosystem, different species of trees compete for access to sunlight, water, and soil nutrients. Trees that are taller usually get first and longer-lasting access to sunlight, blotting out access to shorter trees.
Some also have deeper root systems which give them greater access to both soil nutrients and water. Trees that are taller and/or have deeper roots may have an advantage over others, and can grow more quickly, potentially crowding out other species.
3. Humans vs. wildlife
This may seem like a broad example, but it is true! Humans compete for most resources available on the planet, including food and living space.
For example, as human populations grow, there is greater need for houses and roads, which often encroach on wildlife habitats. As a result, wild animals may be displaced from their natural ranges, leading to increased competition and conflicts between humans and animals.
4. Pollinators vs. pollinators
Insects such as bees and butterflies may compete for access to nectar and pollen on flowers. Insects that are able to access the nectar more efficiently, such as those with longer proboscises, may have an advantage over others.
On the other hand, different species of flowers also compete to attract those very same pollinators. Flowers that produce more nectar, or are more brightly colored, may be more attractive to pollinators.
5. Desert plants vs. desert plants
In the harsh environment of the desert, water is a scarce resource, and plants must compete for it. Desert plants have evolved various strategies to survive.
Many species of cacti, for example, have thick stems capable of storing water long-term, while also possessing very few leaves to limit water evaporation. Yuccas use sharp leaves to remove moisture from the air, and couple this strategy with deep root systems for absorbing underground water. Using these adaptations, desert plants compete fiercely for the limited water available.
6. Squirrels vs. birds
Squirrels and birds often compete for the same food sources, such as nuts and seeds. Squirrels are known to steal food from bird feeders, and birds have been observed attacking squirrels to protect their food.
They also den inside of tree hollows, which happen to be the perfect microhabitats for birds to build nests, creating a competition for habitat resources also. Some squirrels have even been recorded preying upon several species of bird nests.
7. Algae vs. coral
The Coral reefs are home to a diverse community of species, including coral polyps and various types of algae. However, when the algae population grows too large, it can outcompete the coral for resources such as sunlight and nutrients, leading to coral bleaching and potentially the death of the coral reef ecosystem.
8. King cobras vs. king cobras
The King cobras are the longest venomous snake in the world and can be found throughout Southeast Asia. Male king cobras will compete with one another to mate with a female.
They do this via a competition of strength, where two males will wrap around each other and try to push the other to the ground. They avoid biting one another so that the competition is not fatal, and they don’t have to waste precious venom. The winner is accepted by the female to then breed with.
9. Parasitic wasps vs. other parasitic insects
Parasitic wasps and other parasitic insects are known to lay their eggs inside other insects or arthropods, which serve as their host. However, different species of parasitic insects may compete for the same host, since there can sometimes be size and fitness limitations when choosing a suitable host; alongside availability.
The parasitic competitor that reaches the host first may be more successful in reproducing. Parasitic wasps have developed physical and biochemical adaptations to outcompete local competitors.
10. Dolphins vs. sharks
The Dolphins and sharks both occupy the same niche as apex predators in the ocean, and they can sometimes compete for the same prey, such as schooling fish and squid. Dolphins have been observed using their intelligence and speed to outmaneuver sharks and steal their prey, and may even increase feeding group size to reduce the risk of injury from shark species.
11. Owls vs. hawks
The Owls and hawks are both birds of prey that hunt small mammals and birds. They may compete for the same prey in areas where their habitats overlap. However, most owl species have adapted to become nocturnal hunters. Hunting at night when hawks are less active, reduces direct competition between the two species.
Although they are still competing for the limited food resource in their habitat, the time of day that they feed reduces the direct competition for the exact same food items.
12. Fungi vs. bacteria
The Fungi and bacteria are both decomposers that play an important role in breaking down organic matter in the soil. However, they may compete for the same nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen and iron. Bacteria species have been used as biological control agents to prevent root fungal pathogens due to their ability to outcompete many fungal species.
On the other hand, some fungi produce toxic compounds to suppress the growth of competing bacteria.