Types of symbioses

The term "symbiosis" was, in a broad sense, originally intended by Anton de Bary in 1879 to refer to different organisms living together. Proposals to change this definition and redefine symbiosis, such as equating it to mutualism, have led to confusion. Various types of symbioses, whether beneficial or harmful, are described by the terms commensalism, mutualism, and parasitism.

The term "commensalism" was first used by P. J. van Beneden in 1876 for associations in which one animal shared food caught by another animal. An example of a commensalistic symbiosis is the relationship between silverfish and army ants. The silverfish live with the army ants, participate in their raids, and share their prey. They neither harm nor benefit the ants.

In mutualistic symbiosis, both partners benefit from the relationship. The extent to which each symbiont benefits, however, may vary and is generally difficult to assess. The complex interactions that take place between the symbionts may involve a reciprocal exchange of nutrients. For example, in the symbioses of algae and invertebrates (such as corals, anemones, and flatworms), the algae provides the animals with organic compounds that are products of photosynthesis, while the animals provide the algae with waste products such as nitrogenous compounds and carbon dioxide, which the algae use in photosynthesis. Unfortunately, in many academic circles, the terms symbiosis, mutualism, and cooperation have similar meanings and are often used interchangeably. Mutualism has also been widely used to describe intraspecific cooperative behavior in various animal species. The study of cooperation has enjoyed a resurgence during the past several decades. The evolution of cooperation via byproduct mutualism is generally found in the context of interspecific associations.

Parasitism is a form of symbiosis in which one symbiont benefits at the expense of its host. Parasitic symbioses affect the host in different ways. Some parasites are so pathogenic that they produce disease in the host shortly after parasitism begins. In other associations, the host and parasite have coe-volved into a controlled parasitism in which the death of the host cells is highly regulated. Associations among many species are not clear and are more difficult to define categorically. For instance, when in their larval form, flukes might be considered parasites to snails because they harm their host; but, adult flukes have a commensal relationship with snails because when present in the alimentary tract of invertebrates they only share digesting food.

Essentials of Human Physiology

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