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A symbiotic relationship is typically a close, long-term relationship between two different species. Both species involved in the symbiotic relationship benefit from the association. Symbiotic relationships can be found all over nature, in both the plant and animal kingdoms.
There can also be a type of symbiotic relationship between two people.
However, one of the most well-known examples of a symbiotic relationship is that between ants and aphids. Ants protect aphids from predators and parasites, while aphids provide ants with food in the form of honeydew, a sugary liquid secreted by aphids. In return, ants herd aphids to new feeding sites when they run out of food at one location.
Symbiotic Relationship Examples
Before we look at how symbiotic relationships apply to human relationships, let’s look at some examples in nature.
There are many different types of symbiotic relationships, each with its own benefits for both species involved. Some examples of symbiotic relationships include:
- Ants and aphids (protects aphids from predators and parasites while receiving food in the form of honeydew)
- Clownfish and sea anemones (clownfish provide protection to sea anemones, while the sea anemone provides food to the clownfish via a specialized tentacle that attracts small prey which the clownfish eats).
- Cow bird and acacia tree (acacia provide nesting sites for female cow birds, while the female cow bird acts as a defender of the acacia trees)
- Fungi and algae (fungi receive sugars from photosynthesizing algae, while algae reproduce using energy received from fungi).
As you can see, symbiotic relationships come in many different forms, each providing benefits to both species involved. In some cases, one of the species involved might even be harmed by their association with the other species. However, if a symbiotic relationship is beneficial for at least one of the two species involved, it’s not considered parasitic.
In addition to being known as a close interspecies relationship that benefits both creatures involved, a symbiotic relationship is also characterized by a lack of aggression between the two species.
While this isn’t always true (clownfish and anemones are good examples), most symbiotic relationships do involve some level of tolerance for each creature’s presence to make continuing each individual organism’s life possible.
Symbiotic Relationship in Humans
Now, let’s connect the concept of symbiotic relationships to human relationships.
Humans can form symbiotic relationships with one another. There are two different types of symbiotic relationships that humans often enter.
A person can act as an “energy source” for another human being, generally in the sense that they provide useful energy to someone too weak or old to obtain it on their own.
An example would be that an older relative lives with a younger family member and provides childcare while also needing care themselves.
In this situation, the younger person is benefiting from the symbiotic relationship because they have help around the house and don’t have to pay for daycare out of pocket, while the older relative benefits because they have someone looking after them.
Another human can also be a “dependency” for another person, generally in the sense that they rely on this person to provide a service vital to their life.
An example would be in a relationship between a caretaker and a disabled individual. The disabled individual is reliant upon the caretaker’s resources and support, while the caretaker’s life is rendered extremely difficult by having to take on such an enormous responsibility. In cases where the caretaker has children of their own, they may not even have time or energy left over to meet their own needs because all of it goes toward caring for the disabled person.
In both of these examples, one person is benefiting from the symbiotic relationship while the other person is suffering or inconvenienced. The “energy source” and the “dependency”, therefore, are not equally giving and receiving; one benefits more than the other.
Humans can also form symbiotic relationships with things, such as pets. This may be a dog that barks at strangers passing by
What Is the Difference Between a Parasitic and a Symbiotic Relationship?
Parasitic relationships are characterized by one species benefiting while the other suffers. Parasites often harm or kill their hosts. Some examples of parasitic relationships include:
- Tapeworms living in the gut
- A pathogen (disease-causing agent such as bacteria) infecting another organism
Symbiosis is another word used commonly to describe close, interspecies relationships. There are two types of symbiosis:
Mutualism is a symbiotic relationship wherein both species involved benefit from one another. An example would be bees pollinating flowers while collecting nectar for themselves.
Commensalism is a type of symbiotic relationship in which one species benefit while the other isn’t affected at all (in fact, they might not even realize that the other creature exists).
Mutualistic Relationships in Humans
Humans can have mutualistic relationships with one another as well as symbiotic relationships. The recipient of a gift, for example, is receiving a benefit from the giver without giving anything in return other than gratitude.
In general, people who are kind and generous to those around them create strong social bonds that help them to feel loved and supported. This helps both parties involved because it makes each individual feel more relaxed and at ease within their environment, which allows both humans to live a healthier life.
Commensalism in Human Relationships
Humans can also have commensal relationships with other humans. If one person benefits while the other is unaffected, this would constitute a commensal relationship.
This type of relationship can also occur between parents and their children if the parent gives love and support but does not receive much in return. If an individual receives very little help or support from someone close to them while giving to them regularly, that might represent a commensal relationship.
In relationships, you want symbiotic connections where both people benefit. Stay away from parasitic and other one-sided relationships. It’s important that both people get their needs met. If you want something, express this to your partner and be open to what they want. The more understanding both people are of each other’s wants and needs, the better chance they have at creating a healthy symbiotic relationship.