Growth, reproduction, and daily metabolism all require an organism to expend energy. The expenditure of energy is essentially a process of budgeting, just as finances are budgeted. If all of one’s money is spent on clothes, there may be none left to buy food or go to the movies. Similarly, a plant or animal cannot squander all its energy on growing a big body if none would be left over for reproduction, for this is the surest way to extinction.
All organisms, therefore, allocate energy to growth, reproduction, maintenance, and storage. No choice is involved; this allocation comes as part of the genetic package from the parents. Maintenance for a given body design of an organism is relatively constant. Storage is important, but ultimately that energy will be used for maintenance, reproduction, or growth. Therefore the principal differences in energy allocation are likely to be between growth and reproduction.
Almost all of an organism’s energy can be diverted to reproduction, with very little allocated to building the body. Organisms at this extreme are “opportunists.” At the other extreme are “competitors,” almost all of whose resources are invested in building a huge body, with a bare minimum allocated to reproduction.
Dandelions are good examples of opportunists. Their seed heads raised just high enough above the ground to catch the wind, the plants are no bigger than they need be, their stems are hollow, and all the rigidity comes from their water content. Thus, a minimum investment has been made in the body that becomes a platform for seed dispersal. These very short-lived plants reproduce prolifically; that is to say they provide a constant rain of seed in the neighborhood of parent plants. A new plant will spring up wherever a seed falls on a suitable soil surface, but because they do not build big bodies, they cannot compete with other plants for space, water, or sunlight. These plants are termed opportunists because they rely on their seeds’...