Intro to Ecology Pt. 3: Animal Interactions Beyond Prey-Predator Dynamics

Intro to Ecology Pt. 3: Animal Interactions Beyond Prey-Predator Dynamics

When studying the life sciences, there are a lot of in-depth concepts to take in. Depending on the the type of science you are studying, biology vs. evolution, for example, you may even have to learn a handful of mathematical formulas to fully appreciate the material. Here, we are just having a light-hearted overview of the life sciences, so a light serving of sativa will do just fine.

In my experience, sativa helps me to not get lost in wordy texts (reading that is not broken up by graphics/tables or formulas) and keep my mind sharp and able to take in all relevant information. Grinding about 60mg (less than 1/4 of a 1g bud) of sativa and smoking just a small pinch of that for over a 3-5hr period is perfect for maintaining a healthy attention span for learning.

Black Flower Science Co. does not claim to be a medical professional and does not offer recommendations as a substitute for medical advice. All advice and recommendations are based on personal experience of the benefits of medical marijuana. If you are experiencing severe or declining mental health symptoms, please seek the advice of a medical professional.

“When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.”

Table of Contents

Types of Relationships in Nature
Mutualism in the Wild
The Not-So Pretty Side of Wild Animal Relationships
Connections Between Our Wild Neighbors

Types of Relationships in Nature

According to Mufasa, every living being will feed another at some point in its existence. However, there is more to animal interactions beyond prey-predation dynamics. For example: symbiotic relationships.

Symbiosis comes from the Greek word “syn” (meaning together) and “biosis” (meaning live), literally translating to “living together.” Symbiotic relationships benefit both animals, or at least, do not cause harm to one or the other.

As with “mutuals” on Twitter, some interactions can flow in the right direction and both animals be equally benefitted. These relationships are known as “mutualistic.” Commensalism is another type of symbiotic interaction, where one animal benefits from another, but the latter could not care less.

When one animal benefits from the other while causing damage to the latter, it is known as “parasitism.” A good parasite is one that lives at the expense of their host without the host noticing or becoming sick.

Mutualistic relationships are very common, with unrelated species helping each other to survive. Our first example of this lies in our relationship with dogs. Although the exact origin of domestic dogs remains unknown, theories abound to help explain what brought a primate and a canine together.

Some authors suggest that dogs benefited from humans as sources for food, whereas humans found in dogs a hunting partner that later evolved as a guardian, extra power for sleds and other cargo transportation, and simply, company. After thousands of years, this mutualistic relationship seems to be strengthening.

Two mesopredators, a coyote and a badger, painted by Carla Ximena

Mutualism in the Wild

Canines cooperate with other species besides humans when they hunt, like coyotes (Canis latrans) and badgers (Taxidea taxus). These two species inhabit the prairies of North America and have distinct hunting techniques. Coyotes often hunt in packs (or alone, depending on its lifestyle), composed of a mating pair and their offspring, whereas badgers are commonly found solo.

Lonely coyotes may face more challenges when hunting in open landscapes where rodents hide under burrows, but badgers waddle through the field using their powerful claws to excavate and hunt.

When these two predators join, there is a complementary joint force created that gives their prey no chance to run away or burrow beneath the surface. This mutually benefits both coyotes and badgers, giving them a higher rate of hunting success.

It is not always the case that both animals mutually benefit. Oftentimes, one animal benefits substantially from the other without returning the favor in the same scale.

An example of this is the oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorynchus), a species of bird that has found protection and food on the backs of Africa savannah´s large herbivores such as zebras, rhinoceroses, and giraffes. Oxpeckers feed from the ticks and parasites that live on the skin of these mammals.

Their rides also serve as natural deterrents to the oxpecker’s natural predators. In exchange, large mammals can get rid of ticks and other parasites, and have an extra pair of eyes on their backs to check for predators.

Hanuman langur monkeys (Presbytis entellus) from India, forage on the canopy in large troops, with one or more of their members actively surveying their surroundings to alert the troop of predators. Their messy manners on the trees often result in thrown fruit and leaves on the ground that chital deer (Axis axis) happily eat.

Additionally, when langur monkeys spot a tiger or a dhole (Cuon alpinus) they set off their alarm calls, warning chitals from their potential predators. In this case, despite the many advantages the langurs give the deer, the langurs do not benefit from the presence of chital deer.

The Not-So Pretty Side of Wild Animal Relationships

Other interactions in nature may be antagonistic (negative or harmful)toward one or both parties. Parasites, for instance, are organisms that have evolved to meet their demands at the cost of another animal.

An incredible painting of an impala and oxpeckers by Carla Ximena

Most parasites are invertebrates or microorganisms that live inside the internal organs of their host. They obtain their energy from the host and if their populations grow to unsustainable numbers or the parasite gives the host a disease, the infestation can kill the host.

Some bird species, like cuckoos and ducks like the goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) have evolved a certain type of parasitism known as “brooding”. These birds abandon their eggs in the nest of a different species that has similar looking eggs to let them hatch.

When the parasite is born, it is cared by its adoptive parent, sometimes at the expense of the host offspring. The parasitic species benefits by not having to spend energy and resources to rear their young or, allowing them extra foraging time.

In nature, there are also interactions where both species negatively affect each other by their presence. This is known as interference competition. It is a race to get the most of a landscape´s resources, like prey, for example.

In territories where wolves have been reintroduced, it has been recorded that pumas and coyotes lose their territories or switch their habits to avoid wolf packs that might harass them.

An interesting phenomenon happens with bats that echolocate as well. Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis), also known as the fastest flying animal on the planet (they can reach speeds up to 100mph or 160km/hr), jam other bat´s echolocation signals. This causes their competitors to lose their prey – an opportunity that free-tailed bats take advantage of to eat more.

Connections Between Our Wild Neighbors

A web of positive, negative, and neutral interactions, all happening at the same time, might be a better metaphor for life than a “circle.”

Every ecosystem on Earth is crowded with living creatures that constantly interact to their benefit, cooperate to reach a common goal, or compete to win resources from their adversaries. It is never quiet or boring, and one must watch closely not to miss something.

There are still many questions left unresolved regarding how animals learn to tolerate each other in mutualistic interactions, or how they “know” another species is their competitor and not a collaborative friend. Who teaches them this? Is there a thing such as animal culture?

We have just started to understand animal behavior and their rules, and how they interact with each other. Hopefully, we can get to learn and know more about them before they vanish.


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