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Difference Between Commensalism and Mutualism

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Last updated date: 23rd Jul 2024
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Living Together: Exploring Symbiotic Relationships

Symbiotic relationships are close, long-term interactions between two or more species that can have positive, negative, or neutral effects on their survival and reproduction. Types of symbiosis: mutualism, commensalism. Mutualism is a type of symbiosis where both species benefit from the relationship, while commensalism is a type of symbiosis where one species benefits and the other is unaffected. Symbiotic relationships can be found in virtually every ecosystem on the planet, and they play a critical role in shaping the ecology and evolution of life on Earth. Scientists study these relationships to better understand the dynamics of ecosystems, the coevolution of species, and the potential impacts of environmental change on biodiversity. Now, let's explain mutualism and commensalism.

What is Mutualism and Commensalism?

Mutualism

In a symbiotic relationship known as mutualism, both species involved gain from their interaction. Mutualistic relationships can take many forms, from the pollination of flowers by bees and other insects to the cleaning of larger animals by smaller ones. In some cases, mutualistic relationships are so close that the species involved cannot survive without each other.


For example, many species of fungi have mutualistic relationships with plant roots, forming structures called mycorrhizae that help the plants absorb nutrients from the soil. Other examples of mutualism include the partnership between clownfish and sea anemones, where the clownfish receive protection from predators, and the anemones receive food scraps and better water circulation. Mutualistic relationships can be beneficial for both species involved, allowing them to access resources they might not be able to obtain on their own and promoting coevolutionary adaptations that enhance their survival and reproduction.


Commensalism

In a symbiotic relationship known as commensalism, one species gains from the interaction while the other is unaffected. In other words, one species benefits without harming or helping the other. Commensalism is less common than mutualism, but it can still play an important role in shaping the ecology and evolution of species.


Examples of commensalism include epiphytes, which are plants that grow on other plants without harming them, and remoras, which are fish that attach themselves to larger animals like sharks and feed on scraps of food without harming the host. Other examples of commensalism include certain species of birds that nest in trees, using the branches for support and protection without harming the tree, and certain species of mites that live on the skin of larger animals, feeding on dead skin cells without harming the host.


Characteristics of Mutualism and Commensalism

Characteristics of mutualism include:


  • Both species involved benefit from the interaction.

  • The relationship is often long-term and close.

  • Both species may be dependent on each other for survival.

  • Mutualistic relationships can take many different forms and be found in many different ecosystems.


Characteristics of commensalism include:


  • One species benefits while the other is unaffected.

  • The relationship is often less close and less long-term than mutualism.

  • The species benefiting from the interaction may be able to survive without the other species.

  • Commensalism relationships can also take many different forms and be found in many different ecosystems.


Mutualism and Commensalism Difference 

The table presented below highlights the main differences between mutualism and commensalism.


S.No

Mutualism

Commensalism

1

In mutualism, the interaction benefits both of the involved species.

In commensalism, one species benefits while the other remains unaffected.

2

The relationship is often long-term and close.

The relationship is often less close and less long-term than mutualism. 

3

Mutualism is less common than commensalism.

Commensalism is more common than mutualism.

4

Mutualism can result in coevolution between the species involved.

Commensalism may not have as strong an impact on the evolution of the species involved.

5

Mutualism is generally considered a positive interaction.

Commensalism is often considered neutral or insignificant.

6

Mutualism is often more complex and involves more specific adaptations than commensalism.

Commensalism may be simpler and involve fewer adaptations than mutualism.

7

Examples include the partnership between bees and flowers, and the relationship between clownfish and sea anemones 

Examples include epiphytes, remoras, and certain species of birds that nest in trees.


Summary

Mutualism and commensalism difference is that mutualism is a mutually beneficial relationship, while commensalism is a one-sided relationship. Mutualistic relationships can take many different forms and be found in many different ecosystems. Examples include the partnership between bees and flowers, and the relationship between clownfish and sea anemones. Commensalism relationships can also take many different forms and be found in many different ecosystems. Examples include epiphytes, remoras, and certain species of birds that nest in trees.

FAQs on Difference Between Commensalism and Mutualism

1. What is the difference between mutualism and commensalism by taking one example from plants?

Commensalism and mutualism are two types of symbiotic relationships between different species. Commensalism involves one species benefiting while the other is unaffected, while mutualism involves both species benefiting from the interaction.


One example of commensalism in plants is the relationship between epiphytes and their host trees. Epiphytes are plants that grow on the surface of other plants, such as trees. They do not harm the host tree, but they do benefit from the increased access to light and nutrients that being elevated provides. The host tree is unaffected by the presence of the epiphyte.


One example of mutualism in plants is the relationship between bees and flowers. Bees collect nectar from flowers as a food source, and in the process, they transfer pollen from one flower to another, allowing for cross-pollination. This benefits both the bees and the flowers, as the bees receive food and the flowers are able to reproduce more effectively.

2. What are some examples of commensalism in animals?

One example of commensalism in animals is the relationship between cattle egrets and cattle. Cattle egrets are birds that follow cattle as they graze. As the cattle move through the grass, they stir up insects, which the cattle egrets then feed on. The cattle are unaffected by the presence of the birds, and the birds benefit from the easy access to food.


Another example of commensalism in animals is the relationship between remoras and sharks. Remoras are fish that attach themselves to sharks using a suction disk on their head. As the shark moves through the water, it stirs up prey, which the remora then feeds on. The shark is unaffected by the presence of the remora, and the remora benefits from easy access to food.

3. What is an example of mutualism?

Mutualism example: Relationship between bees and flowers. Bees collect nectar from flowers to make honey, and in the process, they transfer pollen from one flower to another, allowing the flowers to reproduce. The flowers provide the bees with food, and the bees help the flowers to reproduce. This is a mutualistic relationship because both species benefit from the interaction.