The Meaning of Symbiosis


Ecologically speaking, symbiosis has a different term for each type of symbiotic relationship. Five of these terms are, Mutualism, Commensalism, Parasitism, Competition and Neutralism.

With Mutualism, both species benefit. With Commensalism, one species benefits and the other is unaffected. With Parasitism, one species benefits and the other is harmed. With Competition, neither species benefits from the relationship. With Neutralism, both species are unaffected.

A German biologist, more familiarly known as a mycologist coined the greek term symbiosis back in 1879, to define “the living together of unlike organisms”.

Symbiosis is the politics of living things within its natural habitat. It does not always connote a peaceful habitat and sometimes, symbiosis means the destruction of a certain gender or species within the natural habitat.

One type of Symbiotic Parasitism is the mating habit of the Black Widow spider. She will woo her mate, ensue with the particulars of conjugal visitation and then she will kill and eat the male. The male spider’s only value to the female, being fertilization and a meal.

The just described mating habit of the Black Widow spider is “obligate”, meaning that the relationship must go on for the survival of one of the organisms involved. A “facultative” relationship is beneficial but not vital for the survival of either organisms involved.

If you’ve ever been walking through the woods and found an empty tortoise shell and picked it up to discover a spider or some other bug living there, that would be an example of commensalism. The spider has a place to keep itself relatively safe. The tortoise died long before the spider came along. The tortoise is not benefitted by the arrangement, nor is it harmed. This is called “metabiosis”. The spider moves in to the dead tortoise’s house, so to speak. Of course, in the human realm, we do not do such things unless we’ve been previously invited and usually via a legal paper called a “will”.

Some people define symbiosis as purely “Mutualism”, where both organisms benefit for their relationship. However, anyone who has observed nature, realizes that there is a lack of morality there. Morality is never the issue. Survival is. And animals and insects are survivalists, not philosophers and scholars with interest in their herd. The issue for animals and insects is never according to cognitive law. Never to written law. The issue for animals and insects is according to instinctive behaviors learned from their groups.

Symbiosis can be used to define many situations, even human ones, therefore its final definitions are many and varied, according to the one using the term.