Commensalism is a positive relationship between two species. One of the species gains a direct benefit from associating with the second species, while the second species does not benefit from this relationship and is not harmed in anyway. While out on safari, you may often come across herds of buffalo or rhino that are being followed by a medium sized bird known as the cattle egret. The birds patiently follow these animals through the grasslands as they graze. When the big animals move through the grass and bush, they disturb insects which the cattle egrets consume. The cattle egrets take advantage of the big animals to source food, while the bigger animals do not gain anything from this relationship.
Mutualism is another form of symbiosis whereby both species benefit from the interaction with each other. One of the most well-known examples in the bush is the relationship between an oxpecker with various species such as giraffe, rhino and buffalo. You may have seen this bird hoping around on the backs of these animals, but what is it doing? Oxpeckers feed off the parasites such as fleas and ticks that are found on the animal. In this relationship, the oxpecker scores itself a meal, while the bigger animal is cleaned of its parasites. The perfect win-win situation!
In parasitic relationships, one species benefits while the other one is negatively affected. Klaas’s Cuckoos have been known to lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. After searching for a host nest, they synchronize their laying with that of the host species. The cuckoo egg will often hatch first, and being larger in size, would dominate the host chicks when being fed. In cases where the host eggs have not hatched, the cuckoo chick will kick out these eggs to eliminate competition. The host species then ends up raising a chick that is not theirs.
Another example of this relationship is that of ticks feeding off the blood of an animal. The animal is negatively affected as their condition deteriorates, while the tick benefits with a meal.
Learning about the interrelationships between species is what helps you to understand the bigger picture. All species have a role, no matter how big or small. Keep an eye out on your next safari and see if you come across these unique relationships.