Tag Archives: competition

Butterfree vs. Cutiefly: Pokémon Competition (and we ain’t talking about battle)

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In nature, there are a limited amount of resources and life is in constant pursuit of these resources. It is this pursuit which drives many interactions from predation to parasitism. But, what is a resource?

A resource is anything that is consumed by an organism to grow and maintain its life functions. Food is always a resource, as is water for land-dwelling organisms. However, a resource doesn’t always have to be literally consumed. Space is a vital resource, particularly for sessile, or immobile, organisms. In this instance, space is “consumed” when an organism occupies it and subsequently relinquished upon that individual’s death. Potential habitats such as hollowed logs or abandoned burrows also constitute resources to be consumed.

A resource may be in demand by one species or many species, but regardless only a select number of individuals can consume a resource at a time. When a resource is consumed, its availability to other individuals decreases. This is the crux of competition.

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Competition simply describes situations where an individual or group of individuals reduces the availability of a resource to other individuals through either consumption of the shared resource or by directly interfering with other individual’s ability to access the resource.

Organisms compete for a range of shared resources from food, to shelter, to space, and these competitors play by brutal rules—last man standing wins. A far cry from the fictional faints of the Pokémon world…or not.

Just as they compete in battle, Pokémon also compete in nature without the safeguard of trainer referees to steer these confrontations away from more fatal outcomes.

A prime example of this struggle can be found with an unsuspecting duo—Cutiefly and Butterfree. While the Bee Fly and Butterfly Pokémon respectively give the appearance of being nothing more than polite pollinators, the two are engaged in a fierce fight for flowers:

Nectar and pollen are its favorite fare. In fields of flowers, it gets into skirmishes with Butterfree over food. (Cutiefly, Pokémon Ultra Sun)

Nectar from pretty flowers is its favorite food. In fields of flowers, it has heated battles with Cutiefly for territory. (Butterfree, Pokémon Ultra Moon)

This is an excellent example of interspecific competition, when individuals of different species compete for resources. In this case, the resource being competed for is nectar.

Interspecific competition regulates competing populations, often suppressing both from reaching population levels they would otherwise achieve in the absence of competitors. Suppose, a Cutiefly reaches a flower before a Butterfree. The nectar inside is consumed and while nectar is a renewable resource with time, for the time being the availability of nectar for all Cutiefly and Butterfree decreases. But, it is the Cutiefly population which reaps the benefits as another individual can maintain its life processes, ensuring that is population remains up. The inverse is true for the Butterfree population, where another individual is deprived of nectar and thus must seek another nectar source or die, lowering the Butterfree population.

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These interactions can lead to situations where one competitor proves better at consuming the shared resource drives the lesser competitor to extinction. This is the competitive exclusion principle.

Coined by Garrett Hardin (1960), the competitive exclusion principle says that if two species are competing for a limited resource, the stronger competitor will drive the weaker to extinction. As put concisely by Hardin, “Complete competitors cannot coexist.”

This principle is derived from the findings of G. F. Gause. He conducted experiments with two species of paramecium, a type of microscopic organism that could live in petri dishes. Grow separately, the paramecium grew rapidly, limited only by the food available to them in their respective dishes. However, when Gause grew them in the same dish with the same amount of food, one species proliferated while the other died out.

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Later experiments with other organisms found similar results. Fruit flies, mice, beetles, and plants; in every case only one competitor emerged victorious while the other died out.

Why does this happen?

Simply put, if one organism can more efficiently consume a resource and decrease its availability to its competitor, then the dominant species increases, while the population of the lesser competitor decreases. The gap widens over time, and soon a negative feedback loop forms where the more abundant the dominant competitor becomes, the fewer resources there are available to the ever-dwindling numbers of the lesser competitor, further leading to its population’s decline.

This indirect interference with the competing population is referred to as exploitative competition. But not all competition is conducted indirectly. Sometimes, a species must take matters into its own hands (or fins, claws, leaves, etc.) to ensure they do not end up on the wrong end of the competitive exclusion principle. This is called interference competition, or when direct antagonistic actions are taken against a competitor to procure a resource, or at the very least prevent it from fall into the competitor’s hands (or fins, claws, leaves, etc.). And Cutiefly and Butterfree’s actions are antagonistic to say the least.

Butterfree’s entry in Pokémon Ultra Moon speaks of “heated battles with Cutiefly for territory” and Cutiefly’s Pokémon Ultra Sun entry states “it gets into skirmishes with Butterfree over food” in the flower fields of Alola.

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So, if complete competitors cannot coexist, is it only a matter of time until either Butterfree or Cutiefly drive the other to extinction on Alola?

Well, maybe not.

On the offset, Cutiefly appears to be the dominant competitor. It’s Pokémon Sun Pokédex entry says that it can sense auras and thus “identify which flowers are about to bloom.” This alone gives Cutiefly a significant advantage over Butterfree. Being able to visit flowers immediately in bloom not only allows Cutiefly to fulfill its nectar needs before Butterfree but lets Cutiefly avoid direct confrontations with its competitor, who has a literal competitive advantage bearing poisonous scales on its wings which according to its Pokémon Moon entry scatters over Pokémon who attack it. With Poison being a weakness of Fairy-Type Pokémon such as Cutiefly, these encounters could prove fatal for the Bee Fly Pokémon.

Indeed, these Pokémon are “complete competitors,” but they can coexist.

A peaceful coexistence can be achieved through niche partioning, the ecological equivalent of dividing your childhood bedroom in half with your annoying sibling so you do not kill each other. Niche partioning occurs when competing species coexist by either using different resources or continuing to use the shared resource but occupying different habitats either physically or temporally (i.e. are active at different times of the day or during different seasons).

A textbook example of niche partioning comes from a study conducted by Joseph Connell (1961) on two species of barnacle, Balanus and Chthamalus.

The two barnacles lived in the intertidal zone of an ocean cliffside where the shared resource is space. Connell found Balanus barnacles the better competitor, as they had heavier shells to withstand Chthamalus crowding and grew rapidly, faster so than their competitor. Additionally, these feisty crustaceans would edge themselves under Chthamalus shells and pry them from their spots!

How could Chthamalus barnacles persist under such competition? Well, for all their shell-shoving, Balanus were not too keen to dry land, unfortunate for a creature living in the intertidal zone. Thus, they were confined to the lower portions of the cliffside where water had a more constant presence.

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However, Chthamalus were desiccation-resistant, and could survive low-tide conditions. So, they colonized the upper portions of the intertidal zone free of competition.

Chthamalus surely could have lived in the lower intertidal zone as well, its fundamental niche consisted of both areas. But competition from Balanus limited it to the upper zones, its realized niche.

Thus, they were able to coexist, in segregation perhaps, but at least no one is shoving anyone off a cliffside.

A similar peace can be achieved between Cutiefly and Butterfree as well.

Like Balanus, Cutiefly may be the dominant competitor with its aura-sensing abilities, but the Pokédex gives no indication that it would be able to gather nectar under rainy conditions. However, Butterfree’s does:

Water-repellent powder on its wings enables it to collect honey, even in the heaviest of rains. (Pokémon Silver Version)

Butterfree could easily harvest nectar during periods of rain in which it wouldn’t have to compete with Cutiefly, or better yet find a realized niche in areas of Alola more prone to rain such as Route 17 or Po Town where Cutiefly couldn’t achieve flight.

Competition is a fact of life, but it does not always have to end in extinction.

Accurate Pokédex Entries

Cutiefly, the Bee Fly Pokémon: Using its aura-sensing abilities, Cutiefly can identify which flowers are about to bloom, allowing them to gather nectar before Butterfree arrive to pester them. The two are engaged in interference competition over nectar.

Butterfree, the Butterfly Pokémon: To avoid competition with Cutiefly, Butterfree tend to cluster in areas where rain is common as their waterproof scales allow them to gather nectar in the heaviest storms. This niche partioning allows them to co-exist peacefully with Cutiefly.

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Works Cited and Further Readings

Connell, Joseph H. 1961. The influence of interspecific competition and other factors on the distribution of the barnacle Chthamalus Stellatus. Ecology 42:710-723.

Hardin, Garrett. 1960. The Competitive Exclusion Principle. Science 131:1292-1297.

Ricklefs, Robert E. 2008. The Economy of Nature. 6th Edition. W.H. Freeman and Company. New York, NY. pp. 328-345.

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