Mutualism: Examples & Definition

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  • 0:01 Definition of Mutualism
  • 0:47 Examples of Mutualism
  • 3:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Derrick Arrington

Derrick has taught biology and chemistry at both the high school and college level. He has a master's degree in science education.

There are many types of relationships in nature. This lesson explores mutualism, a type of symbiotic relationship between two organisms. These fascinating relationships are like survival partnerships between species.

Definition of Mutualism

Various types of relationships exist in nature between different species of organisms. These relationships are collectively referred to as symbiotic relationships, or symbiosis. One type of symbiotic relationship found in nature is called mutualism. Mutualism is a relationship between organisms in which both species involved benefit to some extent with neither species being harmed. When evaluating relationships, we must examine the species involved and see if they are both receiving benefits, such as food, shelter, protection, dispersal, or any other activity that aides in the success of the organism.

Examples of Mutualism

Many mutualistic relationships involve flowering plants and the animals that interact with them, including various species of insect, birds, and bats. In these relationships, the flowering plant provides a source of food for the animal in the form of nectar. In return, the animal provides a service by spreading the pollen of the flower from plant to plant, increasing the spread of genetic information and providing for more biological diversity. Without this mutual relationship, flowers would have to rely on other sources, such as wind, to spread the pollen. In fact, over time, many flowers have evolved distinct shapes to match their animal pollinators' bodies and entice them into the flower.

Another interesting example of mutualism can be seen in the relationship between certain species of ants and aphids, a tiny insect commonly found on plants. Aphids obtain their nutrients by sucking fluids from plant tissue. After digestion, they secrete sugars and other substances as their waste. Ants eat this sugary substance and gain vital nutrition from it. In this relationship, the aphids provide food. The ants, because they rely on the aphids for sustenance, become caretakers - the ants provide security, transport the aphids from plant to plant, and even care for aphids' eggs.

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