Mutualism is a type of symbiotic relationship where both species involved benefit from the interaction. These relationships can be critical to the survival and reproduction of the organisms involved and they can be found in various ecosystems. In this article, we will explore different examples of mutualistic relationships between different organisms.
A mutualism is one of the several symbiotic relationships that species can share. Mutualism occurs in both plants and animals and can involve organisms as small as fungi and as large as rhinoceroses. These behaviors are an excellent example of how different species can work together to survive and support healthy ecosystems.
10 Examples of mutualism relationships
1. Bees and flowers
Perhaps one of the most common mutualistic relationships is between pollinators like bees and flowering plants. In this dynamic, the bee’s collect nectar and pollen from the flowers, while also pollinating them.
Bees need the nectar and pollen as a source of food, while flowers rely on the bees for pollination which is essential for their reproduction. In addition to pollinating flowering garden plants, bees are also crucial for helping to pollinate food crops.
2. Clownfish and sea anemones
This relationship you have probably seen in the Pixar movie, “Finding Nemo”, but this relationship happens in real life as well. Clownfish and sea anemones have a mutualistic relationship, where the clownfish finds protection within the stinging tentacles of sea anemones.
In return, clownfish tend to attract other fish to the anemone which then fall victim to their stinging tentacles. Clownfish secrete a mucus that covers their body and protects them from the sea anemones, which allows for this relationship to work.
3. Oxpeckers and rhinoceroses
Oxpeckers are a type of bird closely related to starlings. These small birds and rhinoceroses have a mutualistic relationship, where the oxpeckers feed on parasites and ticks that infest the rhinoceros’s skin.
In return, the rhinoceros provides a source of food for the oxpeckers. Not only do they remove parasites from rhinos, but they also alert rhinos of potential threats nearby. Oxpeckers are aptly called “the rhinos guard”.
4. Cleaner fish and larger Fish
There are many types of fish that benefit from the presence of “cleaner fish”. These larger fish are often called “clients”. Cleaner fish and larger fish have a relationship, where the cleaner fish remove parasites and dead or infected skin from the larger fish, providing them with a cleaning service.
In return, the larger fish provide a source of food for the cleaner fish. This is truly an act of mutualism, as if they wanted to, the larger fish could very easily eat their clean up crew.
5. Mycorrhizal fungi and plants
Mycorrhizal fungi have a mutualistic relationship with approximately 90% of the plants found on earth. Mycorrhizal fungi attach to the plant’s roots and provide it with nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen to help them grow. In return, the plant provides the fungi with a source of carbohydrates.
6. Ants and acacia trees
Ants and acacia trees have a working relationship where the ants protect the acacia tree from potential herbivores, such as elephants and giraffes. In return, the tree provides the ants with shelter and a source of food in the form of nectar and protein-rich nutrients.
In Africa, there are acacia trees that benefit from these ants as they ward off herbivores such as giraffes and elephants by swarming them whenever they begin to try to eat the leaves.
7. Figs and fig wasps
There are different species of fig trees, but some fig trees are completely reliant on wasps to pollinate them and allow them to produce fruit. After pollinating fig trees, Fig wasps will lay their eggs inside of their fruit. The wasp larvae then feed on the fig, which provides them with nutrient-rich fruit while they develop.
8. Ants and aphids
Aphids are small sap-sucking insects that secrete a sugary liquid called honeydew. Ants benefit from this and feed on the honeydew. In return, the ants protect the aphids from predators like hoverflies and wasps, and they also protect aphids from parasites. This allows the aphids to support healthy aphid communities and also benefits the ants.
9. Pitcher plants and wooly bats
Pitcher plants are a type of carnivorous plant made up of tube-like structures that have nectar around their rim that is used to trap small insects. Wooly bats are very small bats that actually use pitcher plants to roost. These pitcher plants act as a cozy refuge for the wooly bats and in return the bats provide the plants with guano (bat droppings) that provide nitrogen and other nutrients to the plant.
10. Gobies and pistol shrimp
Gobies are small fish that tend to inhabit the sandy ocean floor of shallow, subtropical waters. They live in small holes or burrows in the sand, but they don’t dig these burrows themselves. Instead, they rely on the pistol shrimp, a small, brightly colored shrimp to dig their burrows.
In return for this service, gobies act as a guide for the shrimp as they have poor eyesight. When they leave the burrow, they depend on the gobies to safely guide them. Gobies will actually beat their tail to signal to the shrimp that there is a threat nearby so that the shrimp can safely return to the burrow.