The ecosystem is increasingly becoming a victim of numerous human activities such as deforestation, intensification of agricultural practices, climate change, and habitat fragmentation. The latter adversely affects and disrupts the ecological network and the interactions that take place such as animals feeding on plants or animals helping in the pollination process of plants. With a focus on biotic and abiotic components and how they interact with one another, this paper explores mutualist and antagonistic interactions such as parasitism, herbivory, predation, symbiosis, and competition.
Predation is one of the most common species interactions in the ecosystem. Interactions between predators and preys, for instance, play a significant role in determining and shaping the structure and functions of species in the ecosystem by influencing various parameters such as size structure, survival, behavior, and growth. Primarily, these interactions are altered by the physical-chemical environment that results from the influence of human-induced environmental alterations. Predators often directly reduce the population of preys by curtailing their survival and recruitment into the ecosystem. Predators also indirectly alter the behavior of preys by influencing their distribution, habitat choice, as well as growth. Predators also help to reduce competition among preys when they curtail their survival. Conversely, preys also influence predators in various ways. The number of preys existing in an ecosystem affects feeding rates, growth, and reproductive success of predators. Also, preys have adaptations and strategies such as camouflaging, hiding, fleeing, and defending themselves to avoid predation. For instance, the octopus and fawn camouflage whereas impalas and gazelles move at fast speeds. Others such as bees and sea urchins protect themselves by stinging their predators. In this web network, the predators can also be preyed on as witnessed in the case of humans who predate on fish, which in turn preys on other sea organisms. Another example is the trout that predates on insects but is also preyed by other animals such as the bear.
Parasitism is an interaction between species whereby one benefits at the expense of another. Parasites play a significant role in the lives of animals and have myriads of effects on animal life. The impacts of parasitism revolve around the host population size and evolution. Hosts often undergo adaptation to protect themselves from parasites. Parasites account for a variety of behavioral traits witnessed among diverse animal species. These traits include sexually-related characteristics, grouping patterns to reduce attacks from the insects, and consumption of specific diets such as medicinal plants. According to research, parasitic diversity in carnivore hosts often increases with the increase in home range as well as an increase in the intake of such animals. Notably, geographical locations often influence patterns of parasites on species activities. Most animals can survive in various geographic locations and climate without parasite invasion as the survival of parasites in specific areas or climate is challenging.
Typically, symbiotic interactions in the ecosystem can be described as commensal and mutual. The interactions are often beneficial either to one (commensal) or both (mutual) species. Microbes and plants symbiotically interact within the ecosystem. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants convert light energy and carbon dioxide into carbon building blocks. Plants also require nitrogen in the form of nitrates and ammonia although cannot absorb the same directly into their tissues. As such, plants develop specific features to enable them to symbiotically interact with the free-living bacteria (microbes) in the soil. These features facilitate the conversion of nitrogen to nitrates. For instance, root nodules found in specific plants help to promote the symbiotic interaction between the roots of legumes and rhizobia. For such an interaction to occur, legumes secrete an exudate from the roots hairs that attracts the rhizobia. This interaction triggers the fixation and conversion of nitrogen to nitrogenase and accessory proteins that are easily absorbed by the roots of the legumes. Symbiotic interaction is also encountered between animals and microbes. Primarily, animals differ in their abilities to digest foods. As such, some animals develop special features that facilitate avail microorganisms that assist in functions such as digestion, production of nutrients, and fermentation. For instance, mammals lack enzymes that can aid the breakdown of fiber and digestion of forages. As a result, they pregastric enzymes that set the stage for the performance of these functions. Moreover, the host animals digest various microorganisms to help them in microbial activities. For instance, ruminants have a strong symbiotic relationship with such microbes. To allow the occurrence of microbial activities and other functions such as fermentation in their rumen, ruminants pass saliva to buffer the pregastric enzyme. The enzymes also adapt to the sodium gradients that provide conditions for the conversion of fiber and forages to proteins for easy absorption into the body tissues of ruminants.
Competition is a biological interaction amongst organisms of the same or different species that need to benefit from common resources that are available in limited supply relative to the demand. In this interaction, there are two types of competition including interference and exploitation competition. In interference competition, species directly alter the resource attaining the behavior of other species. For instance, male gorillas may prohibit other males from accessing a mate by using physical or display aggression. Exploitation competition is witnessed when species indirectly interact during the search for a common resource such as prey or food. Exploitation competition as a form of interaction has enabled some species to survive and to reproduce while passing their genetical features to future generations. Giraffes have long necks to that help them to overcome competition for resources from other herbivores such as zebras and gazelles. With the trait, giraffes can access branches of high trees and have access to unlimited food. This enhances their chances of survival amidst the ever-increasing competition for resources as well as better chances of reproduction and passing the genes to future generations. Plants also compete for space, nutrients, water, and sunlight. The competition has dramatically shaped the way plants grow in the ecosystem. For instance, in forests, taller trees form canopies that prevent the penetration of sunlight to ground plants. As such, the ground vegetation has ways of reaching sunlight such as climbing tall trees. These are known as climbing plants and are commonly found in forested areas where minimal sunlight reaches the ground.
Species interactions play a crucial role in the ecosystem as they determine behavioral and survival patterns of both plant and animal species as well as microorganisms. The dynamics of the ecosystem are influenced or shaped by interactions occurring amongst species. Species interactions in the ecosystem are in the form of predation, symbiosis, competition, and parasitism. Through these interactions, each species manages to survive, reproduce, as well as pass specific genetic factors to future generations.