Virtually all organisms in the living world compete with members of their own species. However, individuals differ strongly in how much they invest into their competitive ability. Some individuals are highly competitive and eager to get access to high-quality resources, while others seem to avoid competition, instead making prudent use of the lower-quality resources that are left over for them. Moreover, the degree of competitiveness in animal and human societies seems to fluctuate considerably over time. A new study sheds some new light on these findings.
To analyze the evolution of competitiveness, a team of scientists from the Universities of Bonn (Germany), Bielefeld (Germany) and Groningen (Netherlands) developed a model that reflects the idea that competitiveness comes at a price. In the model, individuals that invest a lot into being competitive gain access to high-quality resources, but the features making them competitive hamper them in making maximal use of these resources. “In many organisms, some individuals invest a lot into being successful in the competition with their conspecifics,” says Sebastian Baldauf from the University of Bonn, first author of the study. “They grow, for example, weaponry like horns or antlers and do hardly feed in order to be able to conquer and defend large territories. This may secure them many matings, but they might get more fitness out of each mating when they would spend their energy on other activities, like paternal care.”