Circadian clocks are thought to enhance the fitness of organisms by improving their ability to adapt to extrinsic influences, specifically daily changes in environmental factors such as light, temperature, and humidity. Some investigators have proposed that circadian clocks provide an additional "intrinsic adaptive value," that is, the circadian clock that regulates the timing of internal events has evolved to be such an integral part of the temporal regulation that it is useful in all conditions, even in constant environments. There have been practically no rigorous tests of either of these propositions. Using cyanobacterial strains with different clock properties growing in competition with each other, we found that strains with a functioning biological clock defeat clock-disrupted strains in rhythmic environments. In contrast to the expectations of the "intrinsic value model," this competitive advantage disappears in constant environments. In addition, competition experiments using strains with different circadian periods showed that cyanobacterial strains compete most effectively in a rhythmic environment when the frequency of their internal biological oscillator and that of the environmental cycle are similar. Together, these studies demonstrate the adaptive value of circadian temporal programming in cyanobacteria but indicate that this adaptive value is only fulfilled in cyclic environments.