Examples of Mutualism in Nature
Mutualism is a form of interaction between organisms of different species. It is characterized because, thanks to this relationship, both organisms involved benefit, increasing their biological aptitude (capacity for survival and reproduction as a species).
It is important to distinguish mutualism from other forms of interaction between organisms:
Parasitism: When one organism feeds on another, damaging it but without killing it.
Commensalism: It occurs when a species benefits from the relationship, while the other is neither benefited nor harmed.
Competition: It occurs when two different species depend on the same resources. For example, if two types of scavenger animals feed on the same animals, they must compete for access to food. There is a competitive relationship when the presence of one species has a negative effect on another and vice versa.
Predation: Occurs when one species feeds on another.
Cooperation: Both species benefit but they can also live separately.
Unlike the other forms of interaction, mutualism is an essential factor for the survival and development of both species involved.
Some authors use symbiosis as a synonym of mutualism while others consider mutualism as a symbiosis only in cases where the relationship is essential for survival.
The types of mutualism can be:
Resource – Resource: The two species involved in the relationship obtain the same type of resource. For example, both get a food that they could not get by themselves.
Service – Resource: One of the species benefits from a resource and offers a service.
Service – Service: Both species benefit from a service offered by the other.
Examples of mutualism
Mycorrhiza and Plants
They are the symbiotic relationship between a fungus and the roots of terrestrial plants. The fungus receives carbohydrates and vitamins that it can not synthesize on its own.
The plant receives mineral nutrients and water. Mycorrhiza is so important for the survival of plants that it is estimated to be present in between 90 and 95% of terrestrial species. This is a resource – resource relationship, since both plants and fungi receive nutrients.
It is the specific relationship between an animal and an angiosperm plant. Angiosperm plants are those that have flowers with stamens (male reproductive organs) and carpels (female reproductive organs). The flowers that have stamens are those that have pollen, which must reach the carpels of other flowers to achieve the reproduction of the plant.
Certain animals function as pollinators, that is, as transporters of pollen from one flower to the other. Pollinators can be bees, wasps, ants, flies, butterflies, beetles and birds. Some mammals can be pollinators, such as bats, some marsupials, rodents and monkeys. This is a service – resource relationship, since the animals offer the service of pollination while the plants offer the resource of nectar or pollen.
Ruminants and Microorganisms
In the intestines of ruminants (animals that digest in two stages) there are communities of microorganisms that allow them to digest the cellulose in their food. The microorganisms in turn benefit from the food obtained.
Anemone and clown fish
The sea anemone similar to a flower, with radial symmetry. It produces a toxic substance called actinoporins, which has a paralyzing effect. The clownfish (amphiprioninae) has stripes of red, pink, black, yellow, orange or white.
Different species of clownfish are associated with different species of anemones. These fish are immune to actinoporins, which allows them to move between the tentacles of the anemone, where it finds shelter, food and protection against larger fish. The anemone benefits because the fish eliminates parasites and other organisms that damage it. This is a service – service relationship.
Acacia and ant
The cornice acacia or bull’s horn is a shrub that can reach up to 10 meters in height. Its name is because it has large hollowed spines that look like bull horns. The ants live on the trunks, feeding on the sugars produced by the plant.
The plant benefits from the protection of the ants of herbivorous animals that can eat their shoots, limiting their growth and survival. In addition the ants eat other plants that are around the acacia, eliminating possible competitive relationships for resources such as water, sun and nutrients.
Ants and aphids
Aphids (aphididae) are insects that have no relationship or relationship with fleas. Aphids are parasites of angiosperm plants. In them they make small holes in the leaves, from where they suck the sap.
The ants approach the aphids and rub them with the antennae. The aphid then secretes honeydew, a substance that serves ants as food. Aphids benefit from the presence of ants, which protect them against other species.
Fish and prawns
The prawns eliminate the parasites that are in the skin of some fish. Both species obtain the same benefits as in the relationships between hippos and birds and buffalo and egrets.
Lichens and algae
They are fungi that have a thin layer of algae cells on their surface. 25% of mushroom species use this association. The advantage obtained by the fungus is the carbon fixed by the algae thanks to the photosynthesis they make. The algae benefits because they can adapt to extreme habitats.
The toad and the spider
The tarantula is a kind of large spider. It allows the narrow-billed toad to stay in its burrow as it protects it from parasites and cares for its eggs. The toad benefits from the protection of the tarantula.
Garlands and buffalos
The cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) is a pelecaniform bird. In Africa, these birds follow zebras, antelopes, ñues and cape buffaloes. The best-known form of mutualism is the one they establish with the buffaloes, those who remove the parasites, from which they feed. This is a service – resource relationship.
Fish and blind prawn
The goby of Luther is a fish of excellent sight that lacks arms. The blind shrimp digs a cave or tunnel through it on the surface of the sea floor, allowing both to protect themselves. The shrimp benefits because it accompanies the fish when it goes out to look for food, with its antennae on the body of the fish, who indicates the path and alerts it to predators.
Hippos and birds
Similar to what happens with buffalo, some birds feed on parasites that are on the skin of hippos. The hippopotamus benefits from the elimination of organisms that harm it while the bird not only feeds but also receives protection from the hippopotamus.