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The great biodiversity of beings that our planet presents is, without a doubt, extraordinary. However, all life on Earth goes much further, since all of it develops thanks to the interaction that occurs between the environment and all living beings, as well as the relationships that are established between different species. From Ecologist Verde we want to introduce you to one of these relationships: symbiosis, which is responsible for many forms of life on the planet. If you want to know more, here we tell you what is symbiosis in ecology and we put you Some examples that will be very useful to better understand this topic.
What is symbiosis in ecology and biology
We can define symbiosis as the narrow coexistence relationship which is established at an ecological level between two individuals of different species who are in direct contact with each other in order to obtain a benefit from said union.
These two organisms involved are called “symbiotes"Or, if they are of different sizes, the one that is larger is called the host and the smallest is called a symbiont. These relationships were named as such for the first time by the German botanist Heinrich Anton de Bary in 1879.
Types of symbiosis
Symbiotic relationships They can be classified according to various factors, such as, for example, the symbiotic relationship that occurs between the two individuals, which is sometimes essential for life. By this we mean that not in all cases the two species benefit. There are relationships in which only one of them benefits, which may be detrimental to the other. We'll tell you then.
In function of the costs and benefits obtained by the species involved we can distinguish between:
- Mutualism: it is often used as a synonym for symbiosis, although it is not exactly the same. Mutualistic relationships are those in which the two organisms involved obtain benefits.
- Commensalism: Uncommon in nature, one of the species benefits from the other, although they are not harmed as it does not pose any problem to the "host" species.
- Parasitism: one of the species, called a parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host species, but, in this case, it does harm. An example is that of parasites that affect plants.
Considering how is the spatial relationship between the two symbiotic organisms, that is, whether one of the symbionts lives inside the other or not, we can distinguish between:
- Endosymbiosis: if the organism lives inside the cells of the other symbiote or in the gaps between them.
- Ectosymbiosis: if the symbiote can survive outside the other, that is, outside its cells, being able to be found on the surface of the digestive tract, exocrine glands or externally on its body.
As we mentioned, some of these relationships are essential for life. For this reason, they can again be classified according to whether they are temporary (optional) or permanent (mandatory) relationships.
Finally, depending on the way in which this relationship has been established, it is possible to distinguish between the symbiotic relationships of vertical transmission, when symbionts are passed on to offspring, or the symbiotic relationships of horizontal transmission, when the host organism obtains its symbiote from the environment generation after generation.
Importance of symbiosis and examples
As will become clearer through the examples, symbiotic relationships are very important in the environment, as they enable many species to survive. That is why we consider that symbiosis works as a evolution enhancer of these species, which manage to improve their way of life by establishing relationships with other organisms and species.
The examples are very numerous and varied. Here are some examples of symbiosis in ecology and biology so that, in this way, the importance of these types of relationships for the survival of these organisms is clearer.
- Ants and aphids: some species of ants, such as the black ant (Lasius niger) protect herds of aphids that in return provide them with food and molasses, a sugary substance that they produce rich in carbohydrates. In the main image of this article we can see this same example.
- Ants and acacias: other species of ants like Pseudomyrmex feruginea they protect acacias from other parasites or herbivores. In return the tree provides shelter and food.
- Crocodiles and plovers: the great power that crocodiles have in their jaws is known to all. These have no more and no less than 80 teeth, which replace 2 or 3 times a year and the remains of food can cause serious problems such as infections. Thus arises the relationship with the Egyptian plovers. They obtain their food by cleaning the debris that they find between the teeth of the crocodiles and these thus avoid oral problems by allowing them to move inside their mouths.
- Sharks and remoras: this is the clearest case of commensalism. Surely you have seen that under the sharks other fish that accompany them. These adhere to the sharks and obtain from them protection and food from the remains of food that they do not ingest. For sharks the presence of remoras is practically indifferent.
- Goby fish and blind prawn: The prawn, despite its lack of vision, digs the burrow that it keeps clean and allows the fish to share to act as its guide in the search for food and, in addition, warn it of the dangers that lurk through movements of its tail that creates vibrations that the prawn is able to detect, at which point both can hide in the burrow.
- The clown fish and the anemone: These fish carry out their entire life inside the anemones, which are very poisonous. They establish a mutualistic relationship in which the clownfish attracts other predatory fish that, when in contact with the anemone, are paralyzed and serve as food, the remains of which the clownfish uses.
- Lichens: are symbiotic associations between a fungus and an alga. The fungus protects the algae from dehydration and provides it with a structure on which to grow, and the algae manufactures carbohydrates that the fungus can use for food. There is a great variety of lichens since they are very resistant and capable of colonizing very diverse environments.
- Mycorrhizae: mycorrhizae are fungi that establish symbiotic relationships with multiple plant species of vascular plants. How? The roots of these plants secrete useful substances for these fungi and these in turn make materials found in the soil such as minerals and other decomposing materials more assimilable by the plants.
- Gut flora and microbiota: In our intestine, as well as in many other parts of our body, there is a large number of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in symbiosis with our cells and that are of great importance to our health to such an extent that variations in this microbiota can cause alterations in our body.
Now that you know well what symbiosis is in ecology and biology and you have seen various examples, you may also be interested in learning about interspecific relationships: types and examples with this other Green Ecologist article. Here below you can see this symbiosis summary on video.
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