What Is an Example of Mutualism in the Rainforest?

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An example of mutualism in the rainforest is the pollination of the Durian tree by bats. However, there are many other examples of mutualism in this type of ecosystem. Another example is pollinating wasps that eat from different fig species in the Southeast Asian rainforest. The interaction between monkeys that eat fruit from plants or trees is another mutualistic relationship.

Mutualism is a symbiotic relationship between two species in which both species benefit from the interaction. In the case of the monkeys and fruit plants in rainforests, the primates’ act of eating fruit from a plant aids in seed dispersal. In this relationship, the primates obtain food from plants or trees, and in turn, they help transport the seeds to other areas. This helps foster the survival of different plant species.

Symbiotic Relationships in the Rainforest

The terms “mutualism” and “symbiosis” can be used interchangeably. Symbiosis in action is often described as a symbiotic relationship. Mutualism happens in all kinds of biomes, such as tundras and deserts. Symbiosis in the tropical rainforest is very common, but what is a symbiotic relationship in the rainforest?

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Mutualism happens when two organisms from different species have a relationship that benefits both species. Both plants and animals participate in mutualism.

Rainforest Animals and Plants

The rainforest is an ideal place in which to observe mutualism because many of the plants and animals live exclusively in this unique tropical environment. While the Amazon Rainforest is a widely known example, there are rainforests in South America, Africa, Asia and even Australia.

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Plants and animals in the rainforest use mutualism to ensure that all plants have enough pollen. Mutualism also protects defenseless animals from predators. Symbiotic relationships can assist animals with mating successfully and with providing food for their young. These relationships help other plants and animals find food.

10 Examples of Mutualism

Chocolate trees, a tropical evergreen tree that produces cocoa beans, have several examples of mutualism. A fungus called endomycorrhizae grows on the roots of the tree. The fungus gets inside the cells of the roots and takes sugar, which it uses as food, from the tree. Then, the tree takes phosphorus from the fungus. Both species are able to grow together and get the nutrients they need the most from each other.

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Before the chocolate tree produces flowers, it grows buds that die off. Although it may look like a dying plant to any other animal, the rotting buds provide a perfect home for chocolate midges. Chocolate midges are a type of tropical gnat. As the midges fly in and around the dying flower buds, they pick up pollen and act as pollinators for the trees.

After the buds die, the trees produce flowers, and those flowers bear chocolate fruit. The cocoa pods are not nearly as delicious as the chocolate that humans eat, but they make a sweet treat for an animal. The sweet fruit attracts animals like the capuchin monkey and other furry creatures. When these animals lean into a flower to eat the fruit in the center, their furry faces get covered in pollen. The small animals become pollinators just like bees.

An inside-rainforest example of mutualism happens in the interior of the chocolate tree. Mealybugs eat honeydew and ants eat their feces. Mealybugs are prey for many other bugs and animals. They live inside the chocolate tree and the ants live inside the tree with them. The tree provides a home for both animals, and the mealybugs provide food for the ants. In turn, the ants protect the mealybugs. While the mealybugs are defenseless, the ants are better equipped with tough exoskeletons and sharp pincers.

Leafcutter ants thrive in South American rainforests. True to their name, these ants cut up leaves into tiny pieces and drag the leaves back to storage facilities in the underground portions of their anthills. The ants chew the leaves to make a pulp and store the pulp for later use. Leafcutter ants put homemade manure on the pulp, and this allows a fungus to grow. Juvenile leafcutter ants eat the fungus to survive — and all of the work the ants do to cut and process the leaves makes it possible for the fungus to grow.

Capuchin monkeys live in the rainforests of Costa Rica and love to eat a variety of tropical flowers that grow on trees. When a monkey eats one of these flowers, it burrows its face deep into the portion of the flower that contains pollen. Some of the pollen gets lodged into the monkey’s fur, and the monkey pollinates the next flower by transferring pollen when it eats. The monkey receives a tasty treat, and the plants can continue growing because the flowers are pollinated. These animals and plants in the tropical rainforest form a symbiotic relationship.

In rainforests in Asia, the Gongora orchid is pollinated by the Asian carpenter bee. In usual relationships, a bee gets nectar from a plant and pollinates the plant. In this case, the Gongora orchid does not produce nectar, but it does produce an overwhelming scent that female carpenter bees happen to like. The male bees buzz into the flower to cover themselves in the scent with the intention of attracting females, but in the process of doing so they pick up pollen and carry it to other plants, effectively pollinating them. Then, the male bees covered in the scent of the flower are better able to attract female bees to mate with.

Harpy eagles love the seed-bearing berries and fruits that grow in the rainforest. When one of these eagles eats a berry, its digestive system doesn’t completely break down the seeds inside the fruit. So, when the animal defecates elsewhere in the rainforest, the seeds from the berry are spread and new plants can grow.

The wattled jacana is a tropical bird native to South American rainforests. These birds are able to catch both a ride and a meal on the backs of large rainforest rodents called capybaras. Wattled jacanas eat bugs, and they find ticks to be especially tasty. As big, furry rodents, capybaras carry plenty of ticks. Capybaras allow wattled jacanas to sit on their backs unharmed. The birds eat a smorgasbord of ticks, and the capybaras are spared the pain and possible disease that come along with tick bites.

Mutualism in the rainforests is a way of life for the thousands of plants and animals that use special symbiotic relationships to survive. Tropical rainforests are one type of biome where animals and plants work together often.