Competence in Biology – Concept, examples and mutualism

We explain what is competence in biology, examples and what is apparent competence. Definition of mutualism and predation.

Biological competence
The competition benefits only its winners and sentences its losers.

What is biological competence?

In biology, we speak of competence, that is, biological competence, to refer to a specific type of relationship between living beings, in which both adapt to the presence of the other trying to obtain the greatest amount of benefit from resources available, that is, in which both compete for the benefit, instead of collaborating for the mutual good.

These kinds of interactions they can occur in terms of territory, food, water or even fertile couples to reproduce, either between individuals of the same species (intraspecific) or of different species (extra-specific).

Be that as it may, this dynamic of competition benefits only its winners and sentences its losers to subalternity or, in the long run, to extinction. The latter is fundamental in evolution, since the pressure exerted by natural selection occurs under the principle of competitive exclusion: those suitable species survive and reproduce, and those little or not suitable, on the other hand, become extinct.

Thus, there are different types of biological competence, such as:

  • Competition by interference. An individual interferes, that is, hinders, prevents, the process of feeding, survival or reproduction of another, through methods of violence. It also occurs when an individual denies another entry to their habitat or territory.
  • Competition for exploitation. It is a type of indirect competition, which occurs when a limited and common resource between two individuals is the fruit of competition, causing benefit for one and scarcity for the other, be it food, living space or sunlight.
  • Apparent competition. It occurs when two species are preyed upon by a common predator, and compete for areas free from danger.

The competition also can cause evolutionary strategies in species, as happens when one of the two species changes its evolutionary niche in the presence of a stronger competitor, adapting to its presence and guaranteeing its survival.

Examples of proficiency in biology

Biology proficiency
Dogs often compete for their territory by marking it with urine.

Some simple examples of biological competence are:

  • The males of many species of birds wear strikingly colored plumage, which they use during a complex mating dance. And since several males can pretend to the same female, they must compete for her, trying to attract her with their colors and movements, and thus preventing others from reproducing with her.
  • If we plant several plants in the same pot, we can see how they compete day after day for access to irrigation water and sunlight, despite the fact that this means that the other plants wither and dry out. The winning plant will grow larger, robbing the others of the resources for photosynthesis.
  • Territorial animals, such as dogs, often compete for their territory, frequently marking it with their urine (and scent), and also assaulting other dogs, especially males, who enter their territory without permission. This is the most common reason for the street confrontation of our dogs when we take them out for a walk.

Apparent competition

Apparent competition takes place among the prey of the same predator, and its name is due to the fact that its beneficial effects for a species are only temporary. This is explained in the following way: suppose that a predator (shark) can feed on two different species (tuna and bream), and chooses one of them at a certain time (bream). This would mean an apparent benefit for the other (tuna), which has been freed from its competitor and can therefore reproduce in its place.

However, when the population of the latter species (tuna) increases, so will that of the predator (shark), which has abundant food available, and as the population of the prey initially devoured (bream) is smaller, the predator will choose on the other (tuna), balancing the populations. So, at the end of the day, the competition between them wasn’t really a competition.


Competition - Mutualism
Some birds eat ticks, mites, fungi, or algae from the backs of other animals.

Mutualism is a form of biological interaction contrary to the logic of competition, since in it both species or both individuals benefit from being related. It is a form of mutual and reciprocal help, similar to symbiosis, in which organisms cooperate.

A simple example of mutualism is the tolerance shown by rhinos, hippos and others. massive animals in the presence of certain wading birds on their backs. This is because birds devour ticks, mites, fungi or algae that may grow in inaccessible regions of their body, thus doing them a favor by cleaning them, but at the same time obtaining an easy and safe source of food.


Predation is the relationship that exists between predators and prey, that is, one in which one organism hunts another, in order to consume its meat and thus feed on it. It is the usual way of feeding carnivorous animals, for example, which keeps the population of their prey at bay, avoiding overpopulation and preserving the trophic balance, since predators are always larger and therefore less abundant than prey .

Predators, on the other hand, may in turn be prey to other larger predators, transmitting matter and energy to higher trophic levels in the food pyramid.

Other interspecific relationships

Parasitism - Competition - Mutualism
Parasitism occurs when one species benefits from another.

Other important interspecific relationships are:

  • Parasitism. It occurs when one species benefits from another, consuming its body substances or using it in different stages of its reproductive cycle, but causing non-lethal damage in the process. For example, it is what happens when mosquitoes bite us to feed on our blood.
  • Commensalism. Similar to mutualism, it does not harm any of those involved, but benefits only one species: the other is simply indifferent. This is what happens, for example, when an animal feeds on the waste of another, without necessarily doing it a favor, but also not doing it harm.
  • Symbiosis. It is an extreme degree of mutualism, in which the two beneficiary species learn to live so closely on the other that this relationship becomes essential for their survival. The classic example of this is the formation of lichens: physical unions of fungi and algae, in which one gets food and the other moisture.