Can’t Live Without You: Study Finds Symbiotic Relationship Between Plants and Animals

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March 19, 2018

When you think about nature, are plants and animals completely separate? They shouldn’t be because science is discovering we can’t have one without the other. We’re not just talking pollinators; plant species actually depend on different members of the wild kingdom for survival and reproduction.

The most recent example comes from a study out of the Mariana Islands. Researchers from the University of California and Iowa State University found that local food availability and the ecosystem are directly impacted by the mutualistic relationship between plants and animals.

Here’s why…

The rare donne’ sali chili pepper grows wild and exclusively in the forests of Mariana Islands. The Micronesian Starling, a native bird known locally as the ‘sali’, eats the chilies from these plants. Afterward, they disperse the seed during their travels throughout the forest. But it’s not all about spreading the seeds; there’s more to how the birds and the peppers themselves depend on each other. Scientists found the seeds of this pepper plant rarely germinate if they haven’t passed through the starlings. There’s something in the microbiome of the birds’ guts that increase the odds of survival for the chilies.  

It’s a special relationship; it would appear that one cannot live without the other. For example, the brown tree snake was accidentally imported to the island of Guam by the U.S. Army after World War ll. The snakes, which eat small reptiles and birds, virtually eliminated Guam’s starling population. As a result, where they used to thrive, the donne’ sali chilies are now almost non-existent on the island. That’s not all; because the snakes have killed-off most of the bird population, the forests there are also thinning. It’s an indication how vital birds are to keeping plant-life alive.

There’s a ripple effect, and the plants and animals working together also help foster a better local economy. Wild chili peppers have better flavor and punch than garden-grown hot peppers. Their quality and delicious reputation create an income for those that harvest them.

It goes to show just how important every single member of the wild kingdom is. Nature doesn’t do anything without good reason. We desperately need insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, and aquatic creatures. They keep the ecosystem operating as it should and provide us with a balanced environment, food, a booming economy, and of course, beauty.

Don’t forget; man is a mammal, and humans are just as much a part of nature. We might be at the top of the food chain, but we’re not perfect. So, what are you doing to have a positive impact on our world? Hopefully, something!

Read the full study published in the journal, Ecological Something, February 2018. A big thanks to Fred Love at Iowa State for alerting us about this interesting relationship between plants and wild animals.

Other plant and animal relationship studies:

Images courtesy of Iowa State University, respectively.

Amber

Amber

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.
Amber

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