Symbiosis – What is it, concept, types and examples

We explain what symbiosis is and the types of symbiosis that exist. Also, examples and how symbiosis develops in psychology.

In symbiosis, individuals compete or share the resources of nature.

What is symbiosis?

In biology, symbiosis is the way in which individuals of different species are related to each other, obtaining the benefit of at least one of the two. The symbiosis can be established between animals, plants, microorganisms and fungi.

The concept symbiosis comes from the Greek and means “means of subsistence”. This word was coined by Anton de Bary and refers to the associations that are established between the individuals of an ecosystem to compete or share resources of nature.

These relationships are essential for the survival of living beings, which is why they promote the evolution of species.

TO the individuals that make up the symbiotic relationships are called “symbionts”. When one of the individuals is much larger than the other, they are called the largest host and the smallest symbiote.

Types of symbiosis

symbiosis - commensalism
In commensalism, one individual is benefited while the other is not affected.

In nature, different types of biological relationships can be identified, such as:

  • If the beneficiaries and losers are considered within the symbiotic relationship, the following classifications are identified:
    • Mutualism. In this type of relationship, both species benefit from the relationship they establish.
    • Parasitism. In this kind of symbiosis, one of the individuals benefits from the relationship they establish, while the other is harmed.
    • Commensalism. In this relationship, one of the individuals is benefited while the other is not affected either for better or for worse. Within commensalism there are the following types:
      • Carrion. An individual feeds on the waste of other species.
      • Foresis. One species uses another to protect itself or as a means of locomotion.
  • If the spatial link established between individuals is considered, the following variants can be identified:
    • Ectosymbiosis. The symbiote establishes itself on the host’s body.
    • Tenancy. One individual lodges within another to obtain refuge.
    • Endosymbiosis. The symbiote resides within the host’s cells or in the spaces between them.
    • Metabiosis. One individual is benefited by the physical remains of another and uses them as a tool.

Examples of symbiosis

Carrion animals feed on the remains of living things.

Nature is plagued with cases in which symbiotic relationships are established between different species and individuals, for example:

  • When an alga and a fungus unite, they form lichens, a new structure that acquires much greater resistance and that helps them colonize larger territories (mutualism).
  • There are birds that establish a bond with birds of other species when they leave their eggs in their nest to raise them as if they were their own (parasitism).
  • When hermit crabs are associated with certain sea anemones, the crab protects itself with the tentacles of the anemone and the anemone uses the movements of the crab to feed more easily (mutualism).
  • Carrion animals feed on the remains of living beings, generally hunted by other species (commensalism).
  • The birds make their nests and use the branches of the trees to build their homes without causing any damage (commensalism).
  • Mosquitoes maintain a relationship with humans and animals by drawing their blood. On many occasions, these insects carry diseases and infect those who bite (parasitism).
  • When bees feed on flower nectar, they not only nourish themselves but also become agents of pollination (mutualism).
  • The crustaceans feed on ectoparasites that are located between the scales and the skin of the fish, and that, in turn, performs a cleaning task on the scales (mutualism).
  • Remoras are related to sharks to be transported, without harming them in any way (commensalism).
  • Flies lay their eggs on the skin or inside the body of other species and, when the larvae hatch, they feed on the tissue in which they were hosted (parasitism).
  • Plants and worms establish a relationship when the latter move through the earth, creating channels that make it easier for the roots of the plants to absorb water (commensalism).
  • When certain intestinal parasites lodge and reproduce in the intestines of some living being, negatively affecting their digestion, while taking advantage of the organism (parasitism).

Symbiosis in psychology

In the field of psychology, the concept of symbiosis is also used to refer to relationships in which individuals behave as if they were a single person.

It is very common to speak of “symbiotic relationships” in allusion to certain couples in which at least one of the two suffers and is unable to generate autonomy, which can lead to some type of pathology. Establish symbiotic relationships can make it difficult for each individual to grow personally.

One of the roots of symbiotic relationships can be the fear of freedom, which can lead individuals to do everything as a couple and stop being alone with other people. Faced with this type of relationship, one advice given by specialists is that each of its members make an effort to do things alone, such as going for a walk. What’s more, it is very important to work on overcoming fears to regain autonomy.