Do you have what it takes to survive as an organism?
Discovery Place Science
An ecosystem is made up of both biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) things. The biotic organisms – things like plants and animals – need access to air, water, shelter, food and space to be successful within their habitat. Access to these resources can be limited; species that share the same food, shelter or water needs will compete with one another to obtain them.
Competition can occur within the same species (intraspecific competition) or between different species (interspecies competition). In this activity, you and your family will get familiar with both direct and indirect competition as different organisms within an ecosystem competing for the necessary resources to survive.
Direct competition is essentially when two animals or species engage each other in a direct way in trying to gain control of a resource. This often looks like a confrontation over territory or resources. Indirect competition is when organisms are being sneaky while competing for resources in a non-confrontational way, like coral or hyenas.
This activity is best suited for learners in middle school grades.
(For a family of four)
- Six Bowls (one per player, plus two)
- Tools: Spoon, fork, popsicle stick or plastic knife, chopsticks or two pencils, paintbrushes
- Resources: Something small like marbles, pom poms, candy, nuts, balls, small blocks or coins.
- A timer of some kind that can measure 60 seconds
1. Set up your ecosystem. Your ecosystem will have two bowls, each filled with the resources needed to survive. Then each player will have his or her own bowl.
2. Choose your species. Your tools represent your organism and should be chosen carefully as each utensil has different physical adaptations that will help you when competing for resources. Try to have a variety of tools among the group so that you have a mixture of different and similar types of species.
3. Adaptation identification. Once you’ve chosen your tool, think about the possible advantages and disadvantages of your tool and write them down. As you reflect on your adaptation, think about the different ways you could successfully compete against the other organisms (players/tools) in the game. Would it be beneficial to work together within your species or compete within your species, taking from what they collect?
4. Direct competition. Direct competition occurs when two or more organisms interact with one another to obtain their resource. For the first round, your family will compete directly. You’ll have 60 seconds to collect as many items from the bowls using only your tool. You may not move the bowl but you are allowed to touch the others’ tools and knock food out of their tools. After the minute is up, count and record how many resources you were able to acquire. Which tool was the most successful?
5. Indirect competition. Indirect competition occurs when organisms compete without engaging with one another, but they may utilize sneaky tactics. This might include moving the resource away from competition. Once again, you’ll have 60 seconds to collect as many items from the bowls using only your tool. However, this time you may move the bowl but you can’t touch each other’s tools. After the minute is up, count and record how many resources you were able to acquire. Consider once again which tool and competition measure were most successful.
6. Reflect and repeat. Switch tools and repeat the game, which tool was the most successful, the least?
After each round, the organism that acquired the least resources will turn their utensil around using the handle rather than the spoon or fork. Changing the tool highlights the fact that when an organism doesn’t have access to the right tools they can’t thrive or be successful within their habitat.
Animals interact in other ways, too. The interaction, or relationship, between one or more organisms is called symbiosis. These relationships could be beneficial for both organisms (mutualism), beneficial to one and nothing to the other (commensalism) or harmful to one and beneficial to another (parasitism).
Extend the game to include these relationships by allowing each player to pick one, without sharing which symbiotic behavior they’ve chosen. For example, if a player choses mutualism, when they grab a resource, they can give one to themselves and one to the friend of their choice.