Interspecific ecological relationships

In the image, we can see an example of proto-cooperation between a bird and an animal

In the environment, we can find a wide variety of ecological relationships between living beings, they can be classified as intraspecific or interspecific . The intraspecific ecological relationship occurs between individuals of the same species, while the interspecific ecological relationship occurs between individuals of different species. This article will only address the interspecific relationships that occur between beings of different species.

If analyzed from the point of view of gain or loss for the organisms involved, interspecific relationships can be classified as harmonic or positive and disharmonic or negative . Harmonic interspecific relationships are those in which one or both individuals involved benefit, with no harm to any of the species. In disharmonic interspecific relationships, there is damage to one or both participants in the relationship. Below we will see which are the existing interspecific relationships and which are considered harmonic and disharmonious.

Harmonic interspecific relationships

→ Proto -cooperation , also known as optional cooperation or mutualism In this type of interspecific ecological relationship , the associated species benefit, but manage to live in isolation, without any type of dependence between them. As an example of proto-cooperation, we can mention the relationship between the alligator and the toothpick bird. In this relationship, the alligator, which has the habit of sleeping with its mouth open, allows the toothpick bird to remove food scraps and leeches that are constantly in the reptile’s mouth. It is important to note that both the alligator and the toothpick bird can survive without this interaction.

→ Mutualism : also called by some authors as obligatory mutualism . Mutualism is a type of interspecific ecological relationship in which the two species involved benefit. But be careful! Do not confuse mutualism with protocooperation , because in mutualism the dependence is so great that it becomes impossible for organisms to live apart. A classic example of mutualism is the interaction that occurs between fungi and algae. Another example, also widely used, is the association of fungi in the roots of leguminous plants.

→ Inquilinism : interspecific ecological relationship in which a species, called a “tenant”, settles or seeks shelter in another organism that we call a “host”. This association does not cause any harm to any of the species involved. As the name implies, the “tenant” only seeks protection and housing. An example widely used by several authors is the association between epiphytic plants, such as bromeliads and orchids, which attach themselves to tree branches in search of light to carry out photosynthesis. 

→ Commensalism : association between two individuals in which one benefits from the food leftovers of the other, which is not harmed. Examples: remora and shark, lions and hyenas.

Disharmonious interspecific relationships

→ Interspecific competition : this type of interspecific relationship occurs when two different species that live in the same community compete for the same resources in the environment. Example: individuals that eat grass, such as locusts and cattle that compete for the same food; owls, snakes and hawks that feed on small rodents etc.

→ Parasitism : association in which one species (parasite) associates with another (host) as it feeds at its expense, causing damage to the host species. Example: worms and humans, mistletoe and trees, etc.

→ Predation : relationship in which an animal species (predator) kills another species to feed itself (prey). Examples: carnivores and herbivores.

→ Herbivory : similar to predaism, with the difference that this relationship occurs between a herbivorous animal and the living parts of a plant. If we consider the individual itself, we will see that there is harm to plants and benefits to the animals that feed on them.

→ Amensalism : relationship in which one of the species inhibits the growth or reproduction of the other. Examples: red tide, fungi that release antibiotics into the medium that inhibit the growth of bacteria, etc.

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