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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

Related Q&A(s): 478 210 525 149

The Question (ID Number 570)...

    I am a high school English teacher currently reading Ishmael with my 10th graders. We were discussing Ishmael's idea that man is the only animal that breaks the law of limited competition - kills off other animals' food sources or other organisms that are not his specific food source - in order to keep his food source plentiful. One of my bright students shared a video that he had seen in a science class. The video is called The Evolutionary Arms Race (aired on PBS, WGBH 2001) and the part he shared was the practice of the tropical leaf cutter ant. These ants cut leaves and carry them to their nests to feed them to a fungus which the ants in turn eat. In the process of feeding and caring for the fungus, ants seemed to develop a sort of white sticky film on their bodies. It was discoverd that the fungus has a predator - a mold. This white sticky film is a bacteria secreted by the ants that kills the mold. So the ant secretes an organic pesticide to get rid of a weed it doesn't want growing in its garden.

    In your opinion, would these ants be breaking the law of limited competition?

    ...and the response:

    The ant/bacteria relationship is a good example of a symbiosis -- a mutually beneficial relationship. The ants' food is protected from the mold and the bacteria get easy access to a source of food. Symbioses are not violations of the law of limited competition since, in this case, the ants nor the bacteria are actively seeking out the mold to eliminate it or preventing the mold from surviving altogether.

    Symbioses exist throughout nature (in fact, the fungus and ant are symbiotes as well) since the members of the relationship are often better able to survive and reproduce thus outcompeting other organisms. Again, they are competing with (albeit more effectively together than apart), but not eliminating the other organisms in the community of life who also need resources to survive.

    While not specifically related to symbiotic relationships, question and answer 478 at the website also bears on your inquiry.

    A great example of violating the law of limited competition is the way "Takers" operate. We want meat so we graze our cows on grass. The other grazing animals competing with our cows for nutritious grasses are hunted or chased away--we eliminate the cow's competition. Some species of grass are favored by our cows. We eliminate the grasses that the cows don't like so that the favored grass species have less competition--we eliminate the grass' competition. We also remove any other vegetation that competes for water and soil nutrients. Any disease or insect that might use the favored grass is also eliminated--we eliminate the grass' and the cow's predators and diseases. All that remains is our food and our food's food--all others are least that is the goal of totalitarian agriculture.

    NOTE: This question was answered by Dr. Alan Thornhill

    Related Q&A(s): 478 210 525 149

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