Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 February 2021
Take any ecology textbook and look up the chapter on interactions between species, and you will find that ecologists distinguish among three outcomes: mutualism, commensalism and parasitism/predation. Mutualisms are mutually beneficial (+/+), commensalisms are beneficial for one partner and neutral for the other (+/0), and parasitism/predation is beneficial for one and detrimental for the other (+/−). Mutualisms are at the core of the world as we know it; the evolution of the eukaryotic cell warranted the mutualistic integration of cell organelles (mitochondria and chloroplasts) into prokaryotic cells, and the radiation of flowering plants as a nutritional basis for the animal food chain is dependent on soil microorganisms for the fixation of nitrogen and phosphate as well as on pollinators (Bronstein, 2015). Therefore, studying mutualism is an integral part of ecological research and one that connects directly to understanding the evolution of cooperation. (See Chapter 4 for a discussion of mutualisms at the cell and genomic levels.)
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