Symbiotic Relationships within the Rainforest

Close-up of Weaver Ant in the rainforest at Playa Cativo Lodge


When you live in the tropical rainforest, you must figure out ways and how to survive every day. And sometimes going solo can be easy, but other times having partners can make it easier.

Insects like ants are great examples of different types of relationships; many of the ants feed on insects or others, from dead animals, while other types of ants live peacefully in balance with other organisms, such as fungi or plants.

When exploring the rainforest you have to be aware of the ground, since it could be foraged by the fearsome army ants, these ants are nomads, which means that they move from one place to another and do not have a specific nesting spot where they return every day, instead, they move through the forest in search for food, and when they do this they move their entire colony carrying with them eggs, larvae, and their queen, very protected by the soldier ants, once they find a suitable place, they do a wall of ants, providing protection and shelter for them, while the others go out in search of food, from worms, grasshoppers, spiders and even killing scorpions, they work as a team, this way few preys can escape. They then cut them into pieces and return to the shelter to feed them.

One of the most famous ants of the tropics is the leaf cutter ant, popular not for what it hunts or for the peculiarity of cutting leaves, but rather for the ability to produce its food, by cutting the leaves into small pieces to make them light enough to be able to carry it for several meters, even up to more than 100 meters, from the branch of the trees to its colony, where it will be deposited to sustain a fungus that they grow, which then becomes their food.

Therefore, they are considered not only agricultural organisms but the first agricultural beings since they have had these practices for several million years while humans have records of just 10 thousand years. Although, it seems that only the ant benefits from this relationship, the fungus benefits greatly, since only the substrate produced by the ants with the leaves creates a unique and ideal environment for its spores to develop, converting this relationship into a whole that both agencies have mutual benefits.

The world of plants is also incredible, some plants have thorns, spikes that look like nails, chemicals, and toxins in their leaves and branches, to keep possible enemies away, however, others are rather associated with organisms that take care of them, while they give a precious prize to their protectors, in this case, we can talk about the acacia plants and their ant hosts of the pseudomyrmex genus, the ant ardently protects from any herbivore that approaches this plant to feed on its leaves, branches, or even its nectar, in exchange the plant offers hollow horn-shaped spines that the ants will use as homes, in addition, the plant produces extra nectar, which will not be in its flowers, rather near the base of the leaves, which will be the food for the ants, helping each other and managing to survive each day.

These complex series of interconnections between species benefiting each other can involve only two species or one species with several relationships, different insects, birds, reptiles and mammals may interact with plants and with each other to help with food, reproduction and/or to protect against predators. To live in the forest, it is often convenient to have some help from the neighbors. 

In any case, what would the natural world be without symbiotic relationships or mutualism between species?
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