Ed Golson Outdoor Education

types of competition

Animals aren't the only things that compete for limited resources. Plants compete with each other, too. Take a look at these two pictures of trees. What do you see that is different about them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well for starters, the trees on the left are much taller (even if you can't see it from the picture, believe me, they are almost twice as tall). Second, the tree on the right is much rounder and very bushy whereas the trees on the left are very skinny and have a lot fewer branches.  

What makes these trees so different? (I'll give you a hint- it's the title of this section.) That's right! Competition. Only in this case, its not competition between animals for food, its competition between trees for light that's creating the differences.  

The tree on the right is out in the open by itself. It isn't competing with any other tree. The best way for it to get as much light as it can is to create as many branches as possible without wasting energy by growing taller than it needs to.

The trees on the left, however, have to compete with each other for light. If one tree were to slow down and try to create more branches instead of growing taller, the other trees would just grow above it and shade it out. So all the trees in that area are forced to grow as tall as possible to make sure that they get their share of the light. By doing this, they aren't able to have as many branches or make as many seeds, but that's the price trees have to pay to stay competitive.  

 

 

Another good example of plant competition is the competition between native plants and invasive plants. Cattails are very familiar plants that inhabit all sorts of wetland habitats. They are important to the environment because they help to filter the water and provide food for many animals.

 Unfortunately, invasive plants like the purple loosetrife are starting to out-compete the cattail in many of its habitats. The loosestrife produces millions of very tough seeds that find every possible wetland habitat. It is more successful at reproducing than the cattail, so it is able to push the cattail right out of many of the best spots. Since the cattail can't compete as well as the purple loosestrife, it is dying off and taking valuable food and cover with it. That's why biologists are so worried about invasive species. They can out-compete native plants and often don't provide the same types of food or cover for animals.  They upset the natural balance that has work well here for thousands of years.

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