Symbiotic Relationships in the Rain Forest

By Lina Schofield
Rain forests contain many different species.
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Symbiotic relationships exist between interdependent species in shared environments, such as rain forests. These relationships fall into different categories. Mutualism is a symbiotic relationship that benefits both species. In commensalism, the relationship benefits one species without affecting the other species. Predatory relationships benefit one species at the expense of the other species. With amensalism, the relationship is harmful for one species without affecting the other. Synnecrosis based relationships are harmful to both species involved.

Symbiotic Relationships between Animals

Rain forest animals are amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals. There are also many different types of insects and spiders. All of these animals are classified as either herbivores, carnivores, omnivores or scavengers. These roles affect the types of relationships each animal has within the rain forest environment. For instance, an oxpecker, or "tick bird," eats parasitic ticks off of the rhinoceros. The bird also gives the rhinoceros a warning call to alert the rhinoceros to dangerous situations. This is a mutalistic symbiotic relationship. This is also the same relationship that exists between crocodiles and Egyptian Plover birds. Among the insects, one of the most interesting symbiotic relationships exists between specific species of ants and caterpillars. The ants feed on a chemical substance that is produced on the caterpillars' backs. The ants protect the caterpillars, going so far as to transport caterpillars to refuge and safety when they are attacked. A commensalistic relationship exists between elephants and smaller animals who drink the rainwater that collects in the deep footprints left behind elephant herds.

Symbiotic Relationships between Animals and Plants

Animals ingest nitrogen by eating plants, fruit, nuts or other animals that have eaten these materials. When animal excrement is left behind, bacteria and fungi assist in the decomposition process, which produces nitrogen compounds in the soil. The plants absorb the nitrogen and the cycle continues. This relationship is mutually beneficial. After animals consume fruit or nuts, they often leave the seeds behind. Some animals, like Australian cassowaries, also excrete the digested seeds out onto the soil. Dung beetles and termites fertilize soil with nutrients that they carry from elephant excrement, which mutually benefits plants. Through their movements the beetles and termites enhance the aeration of the soil for plants. Brazil nut trees share a mutually beneficial relationship with the agouti. The agouti eats and dispenses Brazil nut seeds away from the parent tree, which increases the range of growth for the trees across the Amazon.

Symbiotic Relationships between Plants

Bacterial fungi like rhizobia and mycorrhizae produce nitrogen in the soil, which sustains other plants in the rain forest environment. The fungi shares a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with the plants because the plants produce nutrients that the fungi depend on. Epiphytes are vines that climb up canopy trees to reach the sunlight they need to grow. This is a commensalistic relationship. Liana vines also share this relationship with trees in the canopy.

Parasitism or Predation

Jaguars have a predatory relationship with deer, frogs, mice and fish. Frogs have a predatory relationship with mosquitoes, earthworms, mice and fish. Lizards are predators to insects and rodents, and snakes prey on birds and mammals.

Ocelots have a predatory relationship with monkeys, snakes, rodents and birds. Crocodiles are predators that eat fish, birds and mammals.

About the Author

Lina Schofield began writing professionally in 2005. She is a professional freelance writer who has worked on a variety of projects, including the founding of the quarterly publication "Propaganda." Schofield also has been published in several student collections. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English at University of Wales Trinity Carmarthen.