In ecology, food competition refers to the competition between different species, but largely identical in their eating habits, to obtain food. Food competition is therefore a special case of interspecific competition .
Many carnivorous terrestrial vertebrates that inhabit the same geographic region are more or less direct food competitors. Shortly after lions have killed a zebra in the African savannah , scavengers arrive and wait until the lions have eaten their fill before they can take over the carcass. Vultures are often there first because they can follow what is happening in a large area from a great height and immediately notice when a large predator makes prey . Soon afterwards, however, attracted by the smell, hyenas also find themselves and drive the physically inferior vultures from the carcass, which now have to wait until the hyenas have satisfied their hunger. However, larger packs of hyenas have also been observed to drive a small group of lions away from an animal that has just been killed.
Many species have developed strategies in the course of evolution to secure their food against direct competition. What the leopard has dragged up a tree is inaccessible to lions and hyenas because they are not so good at climbing. With sheer height or appearing in larger groups, food competitors can be intimidated and driven from their own hunting grounds or at least from the prey. It is also an effective strategy to avoid meeting direct competitors while foraging for food in the first place. In tropical forests, for example, there are various tree-climbing fruit-eaters that are nocturnal (e.g. the palm roller in Asia or the wrapped bear in South America) and avoid diurnal monkeys .
However, food competition does not only take place between individuals or groups of individuals of different species. Even if cheetahs generally compete with lions and hyenas for the resource meat, they avoid due to their specialization in particularly fast prey, such as B. Thomson's gazelles , competition with the same species of predator. Due to their size, lions are able to beat powerful and defensive herbivores such as Cape buffalo and zebra, which cheetahs and hyenas cannot. Hyenas, on the other hand, have extremely strong jaws and jaw muscles as well as strongly corrosive gastric juices, which allows them to bite into thick bones and digest, which neither lions nor cheetahs can. Thus, each of these species is to a certain extent specialized in certain prey animals or certain parts of these animals, which reduces the competition between the overall populations of the species.