Difference Between Symbiotic and Mutualistic Organisms

Main Difference – Symbiotic vs Mutualistic Organisms

Symbiosis is a relationship between organisms of two different species in an ecosystem. Three types of symbiotic relationships can be identified: mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism. In mutualism, both species benefit from the relationship. In commensalism, one species benefits and the other species is not affected. In parasitism, one species benefits at the expense of the second species. The main difference between symbiotic and mutualistic organisms is that some symbiotic organisms benefit, suffer or are unaffected by the relationship whereas mutualistic organisms benefit or are unaffected. The symbiotic relationships are maintained to fulfill basic requirements of the life such as nutrients, locomotion, shelter as well as defense.

Key Areas Covered

1. What are Symbiotic Organisms
     – Definition, Type of Relationship, Examples
2. What are Mutualistic Organisms
     – Definition, Type of relationship, Examples
3. What are the Similarities Between Symbiotic and Mutualistic Organisms
     – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Symbiotic and Mutualistic Organisms
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms: Commensal, Commensalism, Host Organism, Mutualism, Parasite, Parasitism, Symbiosis

Difference Between Symbiotic and Mutualistic Organisms - Comparison Summary

What are Symbiotic Organisms

Symbiotic organisms refer to the organisms that live together but are not necessarily beneficial to each other. Three types of symbiotic relationships can be identified in ecosystems: mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism. Mutualism is described below in this article. Commensalism is shown in figure 1.

Main Difference - Symbiotic vs Mutualistic Organisms

Figure 1: Commensalism between a Zebra and an Egret

Commensalism refers to the symbiotic relationship between two organisms in which one benefits and the other derives neither benefit nor harm.The commensal organism obtains nutrients, support, locomotion or shelter from the host organism. The four types of commensalism in the ecosystems are inquilinism, metabiosis, phoresy, and microbiota. In inquilinsm, one organism obtains permanent shelter from the host organism without harming the host. The epiphytic plants growing on trees are an example for inquilinsm. In metabiosis, one organism forms a habitat on the host organism. Hermit crabs using dead gastropods for their protection is an example for metabiosis. The relationship between cattle such as zebra, horse, and other grazing animals and egrets are also a type of metabiosis. The grazing movements of the cattle stir up insects in the ground. Egrets follow the livestock, catching the insects. In phoresy, one organism attaches to the host organism for transport. Millipedes traveling on birds is an example for phoresy. In microbiota, one organism forms communities within the host organism. The bacterial flora found on the human skin is an example for microbiota. A mosquito that feeds on the human blood is shown in figure 2.

Difference Between Symbiotic and Mutualistic Organisms_Figure 2

Figure 2: A Mosquito

Parasitism refers to the symbiotic relationship where one of the species benefits at the expense of the other. The species that is benefited is called the parasite, and the other species is called the host. Though most parasites do not kill the host organism, some parasites may eventually kill the host. These parasites are pathogenic, causing diseases in the host. Ectoparasites such as lice, mosquitoes and fleas, protozoans such as amoeba and plasmodium, and worms such as roundworm, tapeworm, and pinworm are parasitic in humans. Aphids and some insects are plant parasites drinking the sap. The parasites in the intestine of animals feed on the partly digested food. Generally, parasites are small in size than the host organism. But, they exhibit higher reproduction rates once they invade the host.

What are Mutualistic Organisms

Mutualistic organisms refer to the organisms that live together by means of benefiting each other. Nutritional mutualism, shelter mutualism, transport mutualism, pollination mutualism, and defensive mutualism are some types of mutualisms. The bee or bird and flower is a mutualistic relationship that is based on nutritional requirements. The nectar of the flower feeds the bee or bird and other insects. The bee serves as an external pollination agent for the flower. Bacteria in the digestive tract of humans and other animals help the digestion of food while human provides shelter for that bacteria. The nitrogen-fixing bacteria provide nutrients to plants while obtaining a shelter from the roots of the plants. Ants protect acacia plants from browsing animals while obtaining food and shelter from the plant. The mutualistic relationship between clownfish and sea anemone is shown in figure 3.

Difference Between Symbiotic and Mutualistic Organisms

Figure 3: Mutualistic Relationship between Clownfish and Sea Anemone

The clownfish feeds on the small invertebrates that can harm the sea anemone. On the other hand, the fecal matter of the clownfish provides nutrients to the sea anemone. Thus, both species are benefitted from the relationship, and it is an example of a mutualistic relationship.

Similarities Between Symbiotic and Mutualistic Organisms

  • Both symbiotic and mutualistic organisms live in the same ecosystem.
  • Both symbiotic and mutualistic organisms belong to two different species.
  • Both symbiotic and mutualistic organisms are benefits from their relationship.
  • The symbiotic relationships are maintained to fulfill basic requirements of the life such as food, locomotion, shelter as well as defense.

Difference Between Symbiotic and Mutualistic Organisms

Definition

Symbiotic Organisms: Symbiotic organisms refer to the organisms that live together but are not necessarily beneficial to each other.

Mutualistic Organisms: Mutualistic organisms refer to the organisms that live together by means of benefiting each other.

Significance

Symbiotic Organisms: Symbiotic organisms exhibit either mutualistic, commensal or parasitic relationships.

Mutualistic Organisms: Mutualism is a type of symbiotic relationship.

Type of Relationship

Symbiotic Organisms: Symbiotic organisms benefit, suffer or are not affected by their relationship.

Mutualistic Organisms: Mutualistic organisms benefit from their relationship.

Examples

Symbiotic Organisms: Hermit crabs using dead gastropods for their protection, millipedes traveling on birds, etc. are examples of commensal animals. Parasitism occurs between mosquito and human, lice on humans, tapeworms in cows, and Cuscuta in plants.

Mutualistic Organisms: Relationship between bees and flowers, digestive bacteria and humans, egret and zebras, etc. are examples of mutualistic animals.

Conclusion

Symbiotic and mutualistic organism are two types of organisms in ecosystems. The relationships occur between two distinct species within the same ecosystem. Symbiotic organisms may maintain three types of relationships: mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism. In mutualism, both species benefit from each other. In commensalism, one species benefits while the second species is not affected by the relationship. In parasitism, one species benefits at the expense of the second. The main difference between symbiotic and mutualistic organisms is the type of relationships they maintain between the two species.

Reference:

1. “Symbiosis: Mutualism, Commensalism and Parasitism: Wizznotes.Com- Free GCSE and CXC: Tutorials, Past Papers and Quizzes.” Wizznotescom Free GCSE and CXC Tutorials Past Papers and Quizzes, . 

Image Courtesy:

1. “Lascar An example of commensalism – A zebra and an egret (4524314329)” By Jorge Láscar via
2. “Mosquito Tasmania” By JJ Harrison ([email protected]) – Own work via
3. “Common clownfish curves dnsmpl” By Jan Derk – Own work, Public Domain) via

About the Author: Lakna

Lakna, a graduate in Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, is a Molecular Biologist and has a broad and keen interest in the discovery of nature related things

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