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Nature’s Enigmatic and Thought-Provoking Phenomenon called Symbiosis

Updated: Dec 21, 2023



Simply put, symbiosis is a relationship between two or more different species.

Sometimes, this symbiotic relationship may benefit both species, or one species at the expense of the other, or neither species.


Scientists have come up with specific names for three such symbiotic relationships (also known as bonded features):

· Mutualism is one in which both species benefit.

· Commensalism is one where one species benefits while the other is unaffected.

· Competition is one where the fitness of one species is lowered by the presence of the other.


There are many examples of each of these bonded features. Let us discuss a few exciting ones now!


Examples of Mutualism

The sea anemone provides the clownfish with protection and shelter, while the latter provides the anemone nutrients through its fecal matter. In this mutualistic relationship, the clownfish provides protection for the anemone by eating the small invertebrates which are harmful to the former. The anemone protects the clownfish by using its sting on other predatory fish!


Much like the African oxpeckers, the cattle egrets of Asia are birds which are always found on or near large herbivorous mammals such as the water buffalo, wild boar, and the rhinoceros. The birds pick at parasites including ticks and blood-sucking flies on the mammal's body. This may help keep the mammal's parasites under control, and the birds get an easy meal.


When the sun sets on North America's Sonoran Desert, the night-blooming flowers of the Senita cacti are visited by tiny Senita moths. The female moths collect pollen on their specialized abdominal scales and transfer them from flower to flower, pollinating cacti as they go. The Senita moth is the only nocturnal pollinator of this cactus and is responsible for 75-95% of its pollination. The rest is attributed to other insects that are active during the day. During the moth’s visits, the female moth lays one egg on a flower petal. When the flower closes and the larva hatches, it wiggles into the top of the growing fruit. It spends about 6 days feeding on the seeds and fruit tissue. The moth larva does not eat all the seeds or fruit, only about 21% of the developing fruit. This ensures that the cactus can continue to prosper. Thus, both species benefit.


Clownfish and Sea Anemone
Sea anemone and the clownfish have a terrific mutualistic symbiotic relationship in the sea. Photo Credit: education.nationalgeographic.org

 

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Examples of Commensalism

When a spider builds a web on any surface such as a plant, it is an example of commensalism because the spider benefits while the plant is unaffected.

In the ocean, oftentimes, sharks are accompanied by fish called Remora. The fish pick up food particles from their host while the shark is unaffected by their presence.

Spider and its web
Spider and its web. Photo Credit: Unsplash/Dirk Ribler

Examples of Competition

One example is when two male members of the same species such as the bison or deer fight during breeding season. The fittest of them will defeat the weaker and will survive. Its offspring will be healthier and stronger.


The coral and sea sponge compete for food and marine resources in their environment. Sponges are found in large numbers in the coral reefs. However, if they consume too much food and resources in the reefs, they will adversely affect the coral population that make up the reefs. Eventually, a time will come when the corals will die and so will the reefs. Without the reefs, the sponges will not be able to survive. Fortunately, under normal circumstances, a balance is always created when both species exist harmoniously.


Coral and Sea Sponge
Coral and sponge exist in same oceanic environment. They form competition symbiotic relationship. One cannot exist without the other. Photo Credit: ocean.si.edu

Did you know?

We humans also have a mutual symbiotic relationship with microorganisms, primarily bacteria, in our digestive tract? Bacteria aid in digestion and regulate the intestinal environment, and in return, they feed off of the food we humans eat.

There are other symbiotic relations such as neutralism, parasitism, mimicry, and amensalism. Perhaps we will visit them in a future discussion!


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