Symbiosis is a term used in biology. We use the following definition: the long-term relationship between two or more organisms, whereby the relationship is beneficial—or even necessary—for at least one of the organisms. Our eco-displays contain many examples of symbiosis. A symbiosis can involve different animal species or, for example, one animal species and one plant species. It is a fascinating phenomenon that beautifully illustrates the complexity and dynamics of ecosystems. All animal and plant species maintain various relationships with other organisms within an ecosystem. This time: some examples from the Bush and the Mangrove.
Among the plant species found in the Bush and/or Mangrove, there are several examples of symbioses between plants and animals. Cecropia, for example, is a plant genus from the nettle family with about twenty-five species. The trees of this genus are native only to the tropical part of America. The cecropia secretes certain substances that serve as food for ants. The hollow trunk also serves as a home for ants, who attack any voracious animal that wants to put the cecropia on their menu in exchange for food and shelter. Even lianas that want to climb up along a cecropia are attacked and bitten to pieces by the ants so that “their” tree is not bothered by climbing plants.
Another example are the mangrove jellyfish in Burgers’ Mangrove, which lie upside down at the bottom of the saltwater pool to catch food from the water with their tentacles. These mangrove jellyfish live in symbiosis with a single-celled algae. The algae crawl, as it were, under the jellyfish’s “skin” and live inside the jellyfish. Using photosynthesis, the algae produce food for the jellyfish in the form of sugars. The algae benefit from living undisturbed in a safe haven.
An intriguing form of symbiosis is found in the fig wasp and the fig. What you see when you open a fresh fig are ... the flowers! These cannot be seen from the outside and are only accessible to pollinating insects (small wasps) through a small hole in the ‘top’ of the fig. Each Ficus species has its own wasp species. The fig wasps lay their eggs in the fig, and the larvae feed on it after hatching. Thus, both the animal and the plant benefit from this cooperation.
In the Bush, we also find a symbiosis between the leafcutter ants and a fungus colony. The ants cut off pieces of fresh leaves, which they diligently march to their nest. Smaller worker ants process the leaves into a pulp which they feed to the fungus. The fungus, in turn, provides food for the ants’ larvae, and adult ants also eat from the fungal threads.
Lantana Camara, the common lantana, can be spotted in the Bush and the Mangrove. The flowers of the Lantana Camara have different colours. As a rule, the darker colours of red and orange produce somewhat watery nectar, while the lighter, yellow flowers produce somewhat sweeter nectar. Each flavour has different potential pollinators because that is what the plant is all about! Several different butterfly and bird species know how to find Lantana Camara. Butterflies can see yellow well but don’t see reds. They need sweeter nectar, which the plant appropriately advertises with yellow flowers. Hummingbirds and other birds need more but less sweet nectar, which is found in the flower colours they naturally find most attractive: orange and red. The plant ensures that the right symbiosis partner is called upon for pollination during the entire flowering period of each flower.
This is not an exhaustive list, as there are countless other forms of symbiosis in the Bush and the Mangrove. However, these real-life examples give a good insight into the various forms of symbiosis and how both organisms benefit from such cooperation.
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