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Allelopathy vs Altruism: Competition or Adaptation to Survive?’

In nature, generally, there is no place for altruistic behaviors. The most common phenomenon is competition, antagonism, contest, competitiveness. Living these moments, during a pandemic, we are reminded of the differences the human and the rest of the natural environment must have.

Altruism is the opposite of egoism. An altruistic behavior is supporting the wellbeing of ‘others. ‘Altrui’ in the Italian language means ‘other people’, and ‘ego’ in Greek means ‘myself.

But there are a few examples of altruistic behavior in nature. Usually, they occur within tribes or a colonies of the same species. Each one is takes care of the other in order for the species to survive. This is how it works: bees attack the invader of the hive by ‘exploding’ themselves. Dolphins support sick animals. Primates share food and help the injured members of their tribe. This is why we humans are ‘made’ for helping each other. It is just ‘the call of nature’ if we still feel like a part of it. But unfortunately, we often are disconnected from nature and the story of altruism stops there.

On the other hand, we have the biological phenomenon of allelopathy. Many organisms produce biochemicals which influence the life around them in a positive or negative way. A characteristic example is the lack of grass under pine trees. Have you ever seen any grass there? Nope – negative allelopathy from pine trees kills anything green around them. The term allelopathy derives from Greek words ‘allelo’ meaning ‘others’ and ‘pathy’ meaning ‘mutual harm’ or ‘suffering’. In most cases, allelophathy is negative to other species and positive amongst the same species. Many plants in forests, where great competition exists, prohibit the growth of other vegetation.

The rule of Darwin – “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the most adaptive to change” – make sense regarding the above phenomenon. Altruism in nature, mainly in a tribe or a species, works better than allelopathy. There will always be a ‘stronger one’, a disease like virus, a natural phenomenon like an earthquake. Humans are not the most intelligent, but they are the most adaptive to change, in harsh environments or situations.

Evropi-Sofia Dalampira is an Agriculturist-MSc Botany-Biology and PhD Candidate in Agricultural-Environmental Education and Science Communication.

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