Another example of commensalism is the relationship between trees and epiphytic plants. Epiphytes are plants that live on the surface of other plants but that do not derive nourishment from them (figure 16.12b ) . Many kinds of plants (e.g., orchids, ferns, and mosses) use the surfaces of trees as places to live. These kinds of organisms are particularly common in tropical rainforests. Many epiphytes derive a benefit from the relationship because they are able to be located in the tops of the trees, where they receive more sunlight and moisture. The trees derive no benefit from the relationship, nor are they harmed; they simply serve as support surfaces for the epiphytes.
Many kinds of fungi are parasites of plants, including commercially valuable plants. Farmers spend millions of dollars each year to control fungus parasites. Many kinds of insects, worms, protozoa, bacteria, and viruses are important human parasites.
In parasitism, one organism lives in or on another living organism, from which it derives nourishment. The parasite derives benefit and harms the host, the organism it lives in or on. Parasites are smaller than their hosts. In general, they do not kill their host quickly but, rather, use it as a source of food for a long time. However, the parasite’s activities may weaken the host so that it eventually dies. Parasitism is a very common kind of interrelationship. Nearly every category of living thing has species that are parasites. There are parasitic bacteria, fungi, protozoa, plants, fish, insects, worms, mites, and ticks. In fact, there are more species of parasites in the world than there are nonparasites.
This cowbird chick in the nest is being fed by its host parent, a yellow warbler. The cowbird chick and its cowbird parents both benefit but the host is harmed because it is not raising any of its own young.
Symbiosis means “living together.” Unfortunately, this word is used in several ways, none of which is very precise. However, the term symbiosis is usually used for interactions that involve a close physical relationship between two kinds of organisms. The three kinds of relationships discussed in the following sections—parasitism, commensalism, and mutualism—are often referred to as symbiotic relationships because they usually involve organisms that are physically connected to one another.
Commensalism is a relationship in which one organism benefits and the other is not affected. For example, sharks often have another fish, the remora, attached to them. The remora has a sucker on the top side of its head, which allows it to attach to the shark for a free ride (figure 16.12a). Although the remora benefits from the free ride and by eating leftovers from the shark’s meals, the shark does not appear to be troubled by this uninvited guest, nor does it benefit from its presence.
Intraspecific competition takes place between members of the same species. It can involve a snarling tug-of-war between two dogs over a scrap of food or a silent struggle between pine seedlings for access to available light. Interspecific competition occurs between members of different species. The interaction between weeds and tomato plants in a garden is an example of interspecific competition. If the weeds are not removed, they compete with the tomatoes for available sunlight, water, and nutrients, resulting in poor growth of both the tomatoes and weeds. Similarly, there is interspecific competition among species of carnivores (e.g., hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes) for the small mammals and birds they use for food. Competition does not necessarily involve a face-to-face confrontation. For example, if a coyotes kills and eats a rodent, it has had a competitive effect on foxes, hawks, and other carnivores as well as other members of its own species, because there is now one less rodent available to be caught and eaten by others.
In commensalism, one organism benefits and the other is not affected. (a) The remora shown here hitchhikes a ride on the shark. It eats scraps of food left over from the shark’s messy eating habits. The shark does not seem to be hindered in any way. (b) The grey Spanish moss hanging on this oak tree is a good example of an epiphyte. The spanish moss does not harm the tree but benefits from using the tree surface as a place to grow.
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease originally identified in a small number of people in the Old Lyme, Connecticut, area. Today, it is found throughout the United States and Canada. The parasite Borrelia burgdorferi, is a bacterium that can live in a variety of mammalian hosts (e.g., humans, mice, horses, cattle, domestic cats, and dogs). Certain ticks are vectors that suck blood from an infected animal and carry the disease to another animal when the tick feeds on it.
Studies of weed and crop competition can be used to predict yield losses from weed presence and to determine optimum levels or periods of weed control. However, competition is a complex phenomenon that is governed by various biological, environmental, and proximity factors. The factors of proximity include plant density, species proportion, and spatial arrangement among individuals. Several experimental methods have been developed that attach different levels of importance to proximity factors. These methods are described, and the advantages and disadvantages of each are discussed. Density, proportion, and arrangement of plants influence the outcome of competition experiments and should be incorporated into studies of crop-weed interference, since differing estimates for the effects of weeds on crop productivity can be obtained, depending upon the experimental method used.