Symbiotic Relationships

Symbiotic relationships are intricate interactions between organisms to the benefit of one or both of them, and are interesting examples of how animals coexist in nature. Different species exhibit symbiotic relationships for different reasons – some for survival, others for grooming or nourishment. An important thing about symbiotic relationships is they help strike balances in nature that would not be feasible by solely one organism. Not all symbiotic relationships are mutually beneficial, but many of the commonly known ones are. For instance, Zebras and Oxpecker birds have a phoresy relationship (one in which one organism travels along the body of another) where the birds stay on the backs of Zebras and pick off ticks and parasites, as well as help alert their animal partner if there is danger near. Animals have found ways to connect and through these symbiotic relationships, achieving things they alone could not. Below, we have  outlined a summary and examples of different symbiotic relationships.

There are three basic symbiotic relationships – mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism. Mutualism describes a relationship in which both parties benefit from the connection. Commensalism exists when one organism is benefitting while the other experiences no benefit or harm. Parasitism occurs when one organism leeches or connects with the other in a way that benefits it and may or may not do harm to the other organism. A very common mutual symbiosis we see in nature is the honey bee and flowers – the bee collects food in the form of nectar from the flower, and helps pollinate other flowers along its path. Remora fish and goby fish attach to larger sea creatures for protection and travel, benefitting these smaller fish greatly, which would be considered commensalism. Parasites like fleas and ticks have a one-sided relationship. They suck the blood off their host and use this as food and nutrients for themselves. This can harm the animal or potentially kill it depending on the type of parasite.  Ultimately, symbiosis happens in different ways, and animals natural interactions have created these bonds.

Mutual relationships are some of the most abundant in nature. Ants and aphids (which are small, sap-sucking insects) have a unique relationship. Ants want to acquire the honey dew made by the aphids, so they pick the aphid up (ants are mighty strong) and move them to prime locations that not only protects the aphid, but ensures a constant food source for the ants. The relationship between the aphid and the plant with which they extract sap from would be considered a parasitic relationship. Sea anemones and clownfish also share a bond of protection. The anemones’ tentacles are able to stun most sea life, however clownfish are immune to them. Anemones are able to protect the fish from other predators, and the fish help clean their tentacles, keeping them free of parasites and potential disease.

Symbiotic interactions living organisms are complex. They help us understand animals environments, their life cycles, and the role they play in the ecosystem. Since these are relationships occurring all across nature – in both animal and plant life – there are certainly areas for further research and understanding how certain relationships affect the food chain and endangered species.

Sources: Factmonster, From the Grapevine, Science Trends, Sciencing, ThoughtCo