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Let there be an Intelligent alien species of heavily armored but lightly armed folks. Think of sentient crabs without claws. The are physically incapable of fighting each other. They are filter feeders but because of the complexity of their ecosystem, this means a lot of thinking and moving around to maximize feeding but when the food is found there is more available than possible for even a huge group to consume it all. They sexually reproduce by releasing milt and eggs into the ocean.

So have I covered all the bases? Is there a method I have missed where they can consciously compete? Of course, sperm and egg competition and longevity are going on but I am looking for direct modes of conflict that are apparent to the individual.

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    $\begingroup$ What stops them from overpopulation? $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Jan 29 '16 at 11:16
  • $\begingroup$ Food scarcity at the global level. Egg predation which they can do nothing about etc. $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Jan 29 '16 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ Will they compete for food then? $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Jan 29 '16 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ Not consciously, there is no immediate incentive to block anyone from a local feast as there is more than enough and it is undefendable. $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Jan 29 '16 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ "consciously" confuses me... are we talking about animals or sentient beings? $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Jan 29 '16 at 13:47
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If you widen the definitions, you'll find the definitions of competition get very blurry, but if we're holding ourselves to a strict communal behavior without competition, one could look at ants or termites or bees. Within the colony itself, there is no competition (that I am aware of), but they are absolutely a society.

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For sentient beings it's about culture, not physiology

In order to allow two creatures to fight you need:

  1. A physical possibility of harming each other
  2. A mental possibility to do this

Point one isn't really a problem for intelligent beings, regardless of how armored they are. They still can use weapons, traps, poisons, sticks and stones, everything that can harm their brothers, unless they are completely invincible (but from your description I conclude they aren't). If they can't kill each other, they might hurt, deceive, abridge each other's freedom, etc.

On the other hand, if the culture itself leave no space for violence, it's representatives will never go fight each other. They just won't have reason to do this.

Apart from food and reproduction, there are more to compete for

Beliefs. Scientific discoveries. Maps. Precious metals. Territory. Influence. Athletic feats. Anything the current culture counts as valuable.

To compete doesn't always mean to fight each other

Athletes compare their physical possibilities. Hunters and fishermen compare their catch. Builders compare their creations. Artists fight for audience. Leaders need their followers. There is always space for competition.

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    $\begingroup$ You did not have to change your avatar to a crab just to answer this question. $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Jan 29 '16 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ What makes you think I've changed it? $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Jan 29 '16 at 15:18
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No.

One case study of an organism that initially don't compete with each other significantly during large, sudden phases of food abundance is the hagfish, which generally lives in a food-poor environment on the ocean floor. During a whalefall, however, they have access to a near-unlimited amount of food which outweighs them by millions of times. Even in such cases of abundant food, the hagfish often compete with each other for food, especially when the food becomes depleted (video) after long periods of feeding. Food sources are finite, and given enough time there would be sufficiently little food left behind for competition to begin.

Competition is fundamental to biology. Any biological organism has a certain fitness, and organisms that have lower fitness would be outcompeted by higher fitness ones through the processes of natural selection.

In fact, Thomas Malthus described the fundamental instability of such initially competition-free systems in the 18th century. A Malthusian catastrophe occurs when population growth (a fundamentally exponential process) outpaces the growth of available food resources (a fundamentally linear process). Malthus wrote:

Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.

Famine would inevitably result when exponential population growth results in there being insufficient food to feed all of the organisms.

It may be possible for some organisms to evolve birth control, but these organisms would have a lower birth rate and therefore a lower fitness. They would be quickly outcompeted by organisms which do not utilise birth control and maximally utilise the food sources to reproduce. The result is a tragedy of the commons, where the organisms breed themselves into starvation.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your answer is the most thoughtful one but I think you should read the criticisms of tragedy of the commons. It is not so dyed in the wool. $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Jan 30 '16 at 4:18
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There will always be limited resources because a species will expand to absorb what is available. For example, you say "but when the food is found there is more available than possible for even a huge group to consume it all". So what stops them from having more offspring until the group is huger than huge and can consume so much of it that it becomes worth fighting for access?

"They sexually reproduce by releasing milt and eggs into the ocean." What prevents some males from boxing out other males from the portion of the ocean where the females are releasing their eggs? What prevents females from maneuvering for position close to the strongest males?

Are their predators around? One of your creatures might find that when it is time to escape one gets a slight advantage by cutting off another of your creatures so that the predator catches the other and stops pursuit. Living beings compete. That's how evolution works. Even plants do it both physically (e.g. growing taller to get the sunlight) and chemically (read up on it - I don't know the details).

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  • $\begingroup$ This is good stuff but would be better as a comment. $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Jan 29 '16 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ I don't see how this is not an answer? It's three specific cases where they can compete - which answers the question. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jan 29 '16 at 15:22
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No.

There will always be competition. You may be able to bring in periods of time where there is abundant food so no competition for that but the abundance will not last for ever. Once food starts to run low competition will become fierce for what remains with those who lose the competition being forced to set out in search of new food sources. This is inevitable as competition to breed the most will be happening while food is abundant causing a population explosion followed by a crash when it runs out.

This will give you two phases: reproductive competition during times of feast, followed by resource competition during times of famine. There will also be competition to transition between those times.

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Maybe

It depends on your creatures. If they have a hive mind, like bees or ants, then yes. Otherwise, no. The will likely try their best to survive, and while it may not be competition by your standards, there will still be some doing Bette than others, and others trying to do better. They may not be able to harm each other directly, but they can still do so indirectly. The strongest will go to the best places, and nudge the weaker ones out. Things like that.

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You seem to be trying to set up an environment that doesn't have ANY evolutionary pressures. Competition in evolutionary terms encompasses much more than beast vs beast. Better resistance to disease, or being more attractive, or fertile, or having keener senses,... That said I may be wrong and you are just wanting to determine if a society can evolve that has no interest in or benefit from direct competition. Well, even in your scenario the population will expand to the limits of the most critical resource (even if it's a huge amount!) Those members of the population with variations that give them any advantage will resemble he status quo less and less. Divergence and thus evolution is inevitable.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not at all. I acknowledged the persistence of evolutionary pressures gamete competition is unavoidable. I am talking about the level experienced by the individual. $\endgroup$ – King-Ink Jan 29 '16 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ r=Read he 2nd half of my post. Competition is inevitable. $\endgroup$ – Damian Poirier Jan 31 '16 at 8:56

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