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Symbiosis: How do Animals Interact?

Author: Patrick Lin

Editors: Simran Gohel and Ken Saito

Artist: Susan Wu

Animals interact with other animals all the time. Despite being from distinct species, animals can prey on, compete with, or even help each other. The word symbiosis does not have a single, definite meaning. Since the term was coined, it had two different definitions: one is a close physical association between two organisms. The other is a mutually beneficial relationship between two organisms. With both definitions, symbiosis can apply to most long-term biological interactions such as mutualism, commensalism, parasitism, and amensalism.

The most common use for the word symbiosis, mutualism, is an interaction in which both animals benefit. One form of mutualism is cleaning symbiosis, a relationship where one organism removes parasites from the client. An example of this is the relationship between Caribbean cleaning gobies and their clients. Other marine creatures frequently visit the goby to rid themselves of parasites, and in return, the gobies get easy access to their primary source of food; parasites. Another form of mutualism is protection mutualism, a relationship in which two organisms protect each other. A classic example of protective mutualism is the relationship between ants and trees. Cordia alliodora trees provide Azteca pittieri ants food and shelter, while the ants act as tree defenders. If the ants effectively defend the tree, the tree can grow and provide more food and shelter for the ant colony to grow, allowing both parties to flourish together.