Interference Competition: Big Antlers Big Bonuses

irish-elk_dynamic_lead_hero_imageInterference Competition:  A form of competition wherein organisms directly vie for resources, such as by aggression.

In the ecosystem of the Irish Elk big antlers were a big deal.  The racks of male Irish Elk grew to span ten feet across and weigh about 90 lbs.  The males with the biggest antlers maintained a competitive advantage when competing for females.  The females desired the males with the rare (scarce), unusually large antlers.  This “sexual selection” was really beneficial to the males with the largest antlers and the females that they mated with, but not for the species as a whole.  Overtime the species became extinct and many scientists believe that the reason for their extinction was that through the competition to mate with males with larger and larger antlers, the antlers of the Irish Elk became so large that they became a detriment to their survival.[1]  So while the interference competition benefited individuals with extra large antlers, the interference competition eventually led to the extinction of the species.

If you have been following this blog, you know that I have been talking about order, economy (household order), scarcity (as part of the definition of economics) and competition (necessary for the scarcity heuristic and “beneficial” to the development and survival of the species.)  To help me connect biology’s interference competition to economics, please re-read the “Irish Elk” paragraph above while making a few substitutions.  For example, instead of reading the name “Irish Elk,” use the name “Investment Banker,” and instead of using the word “antlers” substitute the word “bonuses.”  Of course the resulting analogy isn’t perfect.  After all, big banks haven’t become extinct, but it (is kinda’ funny, and) does help to raise the questions:

  • Is the competition for scarce resources (really big antlers or really big bonuses) beneficial to the species?
  • Do we really believe in competitive market economies?
  • If we did, might some of the world’s largest banks now be ”extinct?

At any rate it is easy to see from considering the Irish Elk and the Investment Banker that interference competition is not always beneficial to a species.  I am of the mind that competition is rarely beneficial to the human species specifically, and that highest form of human interaction is cooperation, which I will address in subsequent posts.


[1] Zimmer, Carl. “The Allure of Big Antlers.” The Loom. DISCOVER, 03 SEP 2008. Web. Web. 1 Apr. 2013. <http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2008/09/03/the-allure-of-big-antlers/

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  1. The Extractive Economy: « Mitch Cowart
  2. Still Keeping Score? « Mitch Cowart

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