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Mutualism Relationships

Like humans, other living species, such as animals, plants and other bacteria too, help each other for better survival. No living organism can survive in isolation...

Last Updated On: Monday, August 16, 2010


Like humans, other living species, such as animals, plants and other bacteria too, help each other for better survival. No living organism can survive in isolation. All the living organisms depend on each other for food or shelter. We have learned about food chain in our school days. For example, snakes eat rats, eagles eat snakes, hunter birds eat eagles, so on and so forth. But, this food chain is common in normal weather conditions. In extreme weather conditions, some plant or animal species cannot afford to eliminate the other species but they need each other for survival. Mutualism relationships is all about two species living together for mutual benefits.

What are Mutualism Relationships?
Mutualism relationships are characterized by positive reciprocal relationship between two species for survival. There can be many reasons for two species to get in to mutual relationships. The alliance may benefit them in the form of food, shelter, defense, transport, pollination, nutrition, or any other mutual need etc. There are two types of mutualism relationships. Symbiotic relationship, which is an obligate relationship, where the two species live in close proximity and at least one of the species need to contribute in order to survive. For example, parasitic fungus, that initially grows on the plant roots and depends on the plant for shelter. Later, when it grows significantly, it provides mineral nutrients to the plant, that helps the plant for better survival. The fungus in turn gets more carbohydrates from the plant necessary for its growth.

In non symbiotic relationships, the two species may not live together or may not be dependent of each other, but they come together at times for certain mutual benefits. For example, birds and flower plants. Birds come to the plants for flower juices or to eat other organisms and in the process, pick up the pollens and spread it else where. This helps the plant for pollination and provides a greater opportunity for genetic diversity. Here, birds and flower plants are not directly dependent on each other, but their occasional alliance benefits both of them.

Examples of Mutualism Relationships
The animals get in to alliances for certain benefits. The best example for mutualism relationships between animals, can be of Egyptian plover and the crocodile. In the tropical African jungles, the crocodile lies keeping its mouth open. The plover flies in to the mouth of the crocodile and eats the decaying meat stuck in its teeth. The crocodile does not eat the plover, but appreciates the free dental care. This way, both of them are benefited from each other. Another example of mutualism relationship between animals can be of the clown fish and Ritteri sea anemones. The clown fish resides in the stinging tentacles of the sea anemone, which are otherwise very harmful. The sea anemone gets nutrition from the fecal matter of the clown fish and clown fish gets protection from its predators due to stingy tentacles.

Given below are some more examples of mutualism relationships in various extreme environment conditions, where two species come together and help each other so that they can survive in tough conditions.

Mutualism Relationships in The Desert: In the deserts of Taru in Kenya, mongoose and horn bill birds share a great mutualism relationship. In the dessert, there are no trees so the birds are half of the time on the ground and have to look for the food on the ground itself. For resting and sleeping purposes also, birds need the safe ground area. Both the Mongoose and horn bills are exposed to high predator pressures. So, when the mongooses are sleeping or hunting for food, the birds guard them and vice versa. They make certain noises when they see any threatening reptiles and alert the other party. Together they form foraging communities and protect each other.

Mutualism Relationships in the Tropical Rainforest: In the tropical rain forest regions, many species of ants live underground, as they cannot live on the ground due to heavy rains. It is also very difficult for them to search for the food in such tough conditions. So, they cut the plant leaves nearby and get it in the shelter. They cannot digest the plant matter but they bring it to cultivate the fungus on it. The ants survive on the nutrients provided by the fungus and in turn the fungus is fed on the plant matter and is also actively protected by ant community. This way, both of them help each other survive for longer.

These were some of the mutualism relationships existing in the nature. I hope, this article helped you understand the concept of mutualism relationships in biology in a better manner.


Humans, Living Species, Animals, Plants, Living Organism, Snakes Eat Rats, Eagles Eat Snakes, Hunter Birds Eat Eagles, Weather Conditions, Mutualism Relationships, Positive Reciprocal Relationship, Symbiotic Relationship, Obligate Relationship, Parasitic Fungus, Mineral Nutrients, Carbohydrates, Non Symbiotic Relationships