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Taylor Made: Symbiosis

2/5/2018 10:26:08 AM Taylor Tucker

Taxonomic classification levels.
Taxonomic classification levels.
Engineering serves to promote efficiency and productivity. In nature, many organisms have achieved working relationships that benefit the productivity of both parties. Let’s go back to a little biology, shall we?

Bio uses taxonomy to classify organisms using specific characteristics. The different levels of classification also display an organism’s relationship to other organisms. The broadest level of classification is called the domain, of which there are three: Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya. Archaea and Bacteria contain prokaryotic organisms, aka single-celled organisms with no specialized organelles. All animals fall under the kingdom Animalia in the domain Eukarya.

Relationships among discrete organisms (aka across different taxonomic classifications) are separated into three categories: mutualism, where both organisms benefit; commensalism, where one organism benefits at no harm to the other; and parasitism, where one organism benefits at the detriment of the other.

As their name suggests, Honeyguides are known to purposefully lead people to beehives. Photo in the public domain, from whyevolutionistrue.com.
As their name suggests, Honeyguides are known to purposefully lead people to beehives. Photo in the public domain, from whyevolutionistrue.com.
For example, red-cockaded woodpeckers use wood-decaying fungi to speed up the process of creating cavities in living trees to be used as nests. The fungi soften the wood so that the birds are more efficient in pecking.

Humans have a mutual relationship with prokaryotic organisms. Our intestinal bacteria help us break down food so that we can fully digest it. In return, the bacteria have a steady food supply.

One mutual relationship that has been the subject of substantial research is that of humans and honeyguides. An African bird that eats beeswax, the greater honeyguide has learned through evolution to communicate with humans for the benefit of both species. As many bees’ nests are built in tree trunks, the birds have found that the beeswax is more easily gained when human hunters harvest the bees’ honey. Therefore, the birds will fly in front of hunters and make noise to get their attention, then lead them in the direction of the tree.

In addition, researchers have found that honeyguides will actually respond to human noises. Certain calls made by hunters can actually encourage the birds to lead them to a beehive tree.  However, the birds still interact with humans of their own free will.

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