Resource sharing defies math

Red rose in the snow.

It may still be cold, but spring is definitely upon us. Next to my house the daffodils are opening up, no longer able to wait for a sunny opportunity.

Most people also feel the changes that spring brings with it: the longer days, the stirring, the change of pace, which is particularly obvious in a fishing community like ours. Everybody is getting ready for the new season.

With every new season, there is new hope that it will be a good one. When adding up the tasks that were completed or attempted in a day, the sum is larger than in the quiet winter season.

In fisheries, there is a lot of talk about the resource, which refers to the amount of fish, crab, sea urchins or whatever the target species of the fishery is.

The fishing fleet has to divide the harvestable resource between the participants. The harvestable amount is set beforehand by fishery managers and is called a quota. When every boat tries to get the biggest chunk of the quota, there is competition between the fishermen.

In a similar scenario of a shared finite resource, you can imagine a school of feeder fish and a group of sea lions who are feeding on it. Each sea lion tries to get the biggest share, and there is competition between the sea lions.

In both cases, as long as the resources are plentiful, the fishermen or the sea lions may work out strategies in which working together benefits the competitors and competition may turn into cooperation.

As long as there is enough fish, each member of the cooperative can increase their take and win from the collaboration, but this ends when the resource runs out.

The concept of sharing becomes a completely different thing when resources are limited. I tried to find an example of fish sharing food, but I was unsuccessful.

When I searched the term, I found a lot of websites talking about people sharing fish and eating it, or articles for aquarists talking about the best fish food.

One very dubious and probably photoshopped picture showed two fish eating an eel, where one fish had swallowed the head and the other the tail of the prey.

While I can think of many examples of animals stealing food from another animal, the only situation that I can think of where marine animals actually offer food to one another is during courting and rearing of young. You might say that there is no social network in the open ocean; every mouth has to fight for its own survival.

As always when you make such a blanket conclusion, it is not as easy as that.

Consider the concept of symbiosis: two organisms working together, with both gaining some advantage from the cooperation.

There are numerous examples, and the form of the cooperation can vary from simply sharing a living space, to enhanced hunting success, to parasitism.

In the case of the symbiosis between coral and the algae that live inside their cells, the partners can no longer thrive without one another.

In other cases, the dependence is much weaker: For example, the sea star is perfectly fine without a scale worm, but the scale worm gains protection and possibly some free meals from living with a sea star.

The difference between competition and symbiosis is that the animals in question use a different aspect of the resource. The scale worm does not actually compete with the sea star for food, it merely eats some of the crumbs and leftovers of each meal. In terms of math, you might say its impact on the food equation is insignificant.

Feeding, hunting for food, consuming it and dealing with competition are all factors in a larger energy equation.

Every organism needs to meet its energy requirements, which means that the amount of calories ingested must be larger than the amount of calories expended in the search and acquisition of food.

Growth or any form of body weight gain and body weight loss comes down to a budget between intake and expenditure of calories.

If I eat too much chocolate and sip too many good cocktails, they show up in the shape of love handles on my hips after a while, but if I dance the night away or go for a run before that piece of birthday cake, the food energy budget balances better.

All this talk about calories refers to physical energy. Spring seems to affect another type of energy in animals and people: the energy that flows between two people.

The source of this spring fever is hormonal rather than food-induced. It affects our emotions and moods, which makes it much harder to quantify.

Coming full circle from food fights to the big questions of defining love, here is a love-math challenge:

If I love someone, and they love me back, everything that happens to either one of us deeply affects the other's wellbeing. Thus, it is only fair that I make sure I am the best I can be, which means taking care of myself physically and mentally.

In a way, if I work out, which is good for me, it is good for both of us; you might say I work out for both of us. If I do 30 push-ups and I do them for both of us, they count double, right? Do I now get bragging rights for 60 push-ups?

If the two of us skip our workout, and each of us would have worked out for both of us, that makes a loss of four workouts, which would take me alone four days to make up.

However, if we skip the morning workout in favor of sharing a good breakfast in bed, the good energy between us grows and there is a bigger pool of this resource.

How is that for amazing math?

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