What is mutualism?

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In the field of biology, mutualism refers to a process or interaction between two different organisms or species that presents benefits for both parties. Some people refer to this interaction between species as cooperation because the two species involved are literally cooperating with each other and thus giving each other benefits. This particular relationship is a big contrast to other situations like parasitism for example wherein only one of the species or organisms involved benefits from the relationship or interaction. In a broader sense, mutualism is considered one type of symbiosis which involves a long-term interaction or co-existence between different species.

Cows and bacteria for example have a mutual kind of interaction and relationship. The bacteria literally reside in the cow’s digestive tract and get all the food they want for their own survival. On the other hand, the bacteria will also help the cow by way of helping digest the leaves of plants that have already been eaten. This kind of mutualism is also similar to the mutual relationship between other bacteria and animals. Another example of mutualism involves ants and the acacia tree. A specific type of ant aptly called the “acacia ant” literally thrives in the barks and branches of the tree and survives in this environment because the tree itself is their source of food and water. For the acacia tree, the benefit it gains is its own health from several browsing animals. With the ants present, many of these animals are driven away and won’t have any chance of damaging the tree.

The interaction of flowers and the bees is also another classic example of mutualism. The bees get their food from the flower nectars and the flowers will then be given help to reproduce by means of pollination. This is also the same kind of relationship with birds and other flower or fruit-bearing plants. Birds get their food and they also spread the plant species through pollination.