Survival of the Fittest Herd

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”* (The photo is a fraction of a gazelle herd just after dawn. They are drinking in shifts. Note the sentinels looking for possible attack from lions lurking in the bush.)

I am addressing the issue of biologic action and response because it lies at the source of all behaviors for survival. Most of what we see in this continuing survey of the plants and animals is the result of efforts of the RNA/DNA molecule. Its multiple iterations over the last four billion years improves its survivability through diversity. The continuing changes that we will see in our Everglades Ark voyage are the result of species meeting the challenges. These changes are now accelerating at such a startling rate that they now readily observable within the span of a few years rather than decades or centuries. We use technologies to document and interpret the observations.

Plants and animals are in constant interaction with one another. These interactions are defined but the lines between their behaviors are not extraordinarily sharp. They have various blended modes. In fact the animal or plant may have multiple roles as prey and predator at the same time.

If the behavior is efficient then the result is advantage. If the advantage is insurmountable then the result is listed below. If the adaptation is efficient the result is advantage. Here is my description of commonly describe interactions:

For animals there are a number of variations in the listed predator/responder actions. These competitive behaviors include: inter and intra species, exploitation and interference.

BehaviorActionActorResponder ResultLong term result or risk
PredationPredationPredatorPreyPrey is eatenPrey loses or balances by high reproduction rate
CompetitionMonopoly resource consumptionAdvantage Resource controllerDisadvantaged competitor is displaced Loss of niche. Adapt or displacedResponder failure results in extinction or adaptation.
ToxicityAdvantaged PoisonerDisadvantaged poisoned or irritated Adapt or displacedNew speciation
MimicryMasquerader, clue, reward, DeceivedCamouflage advantagedNew speciation
High reproductivityPopulatorDisplaced looses nicheOver population without predatorColony collapse risk without food.
Environmentally advantagedAdaptationNiche invaderNiche retreatNiche specializationColony collapse risk if niche is compromised
SpecializationResource depleaterConsumption
Resource specializationColony collapse risk if resource is compromised or adaptation is insufficient
Anatomic specialist Anatomy specializationResource advantagedNew speciation
Generalization Anatomy and resourceVulnerableAll niches and resources are vulnerableConscious consumption of resources or risk of colony collapse
SymbiosisParasitismLiving by invasionCost to Host Loss of host resourcesMay result in chronic disease or eventual death of host
MutualismLiving with interactionBenefitResource gain to both Population of both increase May result in inseparable dependence.
CommensalismLiving among without interactionIndifferentNo changeNo pressure to differentiate
SaprophytismLiving from remainsResource deminishedLife without loss Decomposition and recycle
Action of members of an ecosystem

Here are several animal actors in our SW Florida ecosystem.

An eagle may be a predator and a commensurate by taking live wild prey and also scavenging for road kill.

The Cane toad is an environmentally advantaged insectivore and has a toxic chemical defense that dissuades predators from controlling their population. The Cane toads currently are hunted by humans to reduce their numbers. This may result in an imbalance in the insect population.

Bobcats have a relatively low birth rate. They are carnivore predators and may survive on rabbits which are herbivores. The rabbits have a high reproductive rate, run faster and live in burrows. Without the bobcat there would be an uncontrolled rabbit population resulting in significant damage to the foliage.

Monarch butterfly eat milkweed. Milkweed is mildly toxic and thus disfavored by all except the Monarch and the Queen butterfly. These two butterfly species are tolerant of the toxin. After ingestion the toxin resides in the bodies of the butterflies. The milkweed toxin in the Monarch and Queen is disfavored by insectivores. This improves their survival rate.

These are constantly changing behaviors with significant consequences to all resources involved. The Bird Island described in the earlier post Beauty and the Beast is a fair example of the interaction of the actions of the partners in that ecosystem.

At some point each animal or plant consumes resources and in turn is consumed in some way, hence the blurring of the lines of classification. We will look at plant behaviors in the near future.

The ultimate predators are not individual or small groups but herds. Humans acting as a herd collectively have all of the characteristics of predation, competition, and environmental advantage as well as all of the traits of symbiosis. The human herd is also prey to other species who act collectively and have highly adaptive behaviors. Insects and microorganisms with their high reproductive rates, readily mutative DNA/RNA, environmental adaptable capabilities, small physical size and collective behavior could ultimately be the demise of our species unless we continue to respond.

To learn more about Survival of the Fittest see these resources:

NatGeo resources


The Origin and Nature of DNA and DNA Replication

Biology and the Evolution of Life

*2005, The World is Flat: a Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman, Page 114, [1st edition], Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. 

#Predator #parasite #saprophyte #commensurate #Mutualism # environmental advantaged #colony collapse #niche #adaptation #specialization #toxicity #mimicry #dependence #DNA

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