The Triforce of Science

In the Legend of Zelda universe there is a relic known as the triforce which is made up of three separate pieces each made by a goddess to represent power, courage, and wisdom. In order to utilize the triforce, and make a wish, the user must embody the three characteristics (power, courage, wisdom) equally. Balance is just as essential in nature as it is in video games, specifically when discussing ecology. When studying ecology one of the most essential concepts is energy allocation which can determine an organism’s fate. For example, the main three sources for energy allocation in nature are: defense, growth, and reproduction.

hoi

The defense category includes internal and external defense strategies against natural predators and pathogens (the immune system, camouflage, etc.). Growth is pretty self-explanatory, it mandates how big an organism can get, how long it takes an organism to get to its final life stage, and the formation or degradation of appendages. The difference in size between a mouse and an elephant, the short period of time an insect is stuck in the pupa phase, and the disappearance of gills and tails of a tadpole are all examples of things mediated by this category. Reproduction is the last area organisms can choose to place energy into and it determines how many offspring an organism has, how big the offspring are, and how much effort is put into parental care.

Triforce

Different species put varying levels of emphasis on these three categories. For example, all animals can be divided into two different groups in ecology r-selected species and k-selected species (I actually have no idea what the r and k even stand for). R-selected species are animals who put a lot of emphasis on reproduction, they have large amounts of offspring frequently, but they are usually small and live shorter lives. Examples of r-selected species are insects, rodents, and fish, all organisms which produce many offspring (in some cases millions of eggs) which have low survival rates (are especially vulnerable to predation) and tend to be smaller even at their adult life stages. K-selected species are animals that allocate a lot of energy to defense and growth, they have only a few offspring, are usually bigger and they have longer life spans. Elephants, dolphins, and humans are great example of these species, these organisms can live up to 100+ years old (Harriet the giant tortoise, anyone?), and weigh up to 180 tons (the blue whale), and have some of the most efficient immune systems in all of the animal kingdom.

Though every individual can be classified into one of these two categories, the level of energy used in each category can be increased or decreased based on environmental pressures around the organism. For example, people who are infected with a disease in childhood typically tend to be shorter and lighter when they are adults (a perfect example of this are adults who survived childhood tuberculosis) because they have allocated their resources to defense rather than to growth. Many species when infected with parasites will increase their reproduction rate initially and then put all their resources into preventing the spread of infection. Many species, like dogs for example, will devote most energy to growth early in life rather to reproduction, hence why most are not breeding ready until months after they are born (and why puppies seem to grow so fast!).

Just like the triforce, many individuals are proficient in two out of three for these life history strategies (for example: they have an efficient predator defense system and are large in size, but only have one offspring), however finding a species that contributes energy to all three categories evenly is extremely rare. In fact, those species higher on the food chain are probably the closest to this perfect combination, and even then, humans (the highest of the predators) still struggle against debilitating diseases (AIDS, antibiotic resistance, etc.), are 5’10’’ and 137 pounds on average, and seek out to control their birth rates (not saying it’s wrong!). It stands to reason that, just like the hero who can hold the triforce, the species that can conquer each of these categories efficiently will be the most successful, the ultimate species.

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