Symbiotic relationships between different organisms in the wild are a wonderful thing. They exist in just about every ecosystem around the globe, including the renowned Amazon rainforest. But the Amazon rainforest is so diverse that many organisms find themselves trading their traditional symbiotic relationships for better deals as they become available.
One great example of a symbiotic relationship in the Amazon rainforest exists between inga saplings and the big-headed ant. These saplings struggle to survive not only because they grow slowly due to always residing in the shade created by larger sunlight-hogging trees, but also because hungry caterpillars and other insects are constantly feasting on the saplings’ limited supply of leaves.
Many of these insects are kept at bay by the big-headed ants, which rely on the sapling’s nectar supply as a food source. Consequently, the ants defend the sapling, and both the ants and the sapling benefit from this relationship. Every so often, however, a special caterpillar with unique nectar-excreting rear end. The ants know this particular caterpillar by sight, and they interact with the caterpillar to obtain its nectar.
Because this caterpillar provides the ants with what they want, the ants give the caterpillar free roam over the sapling. Consequently, the original symbiotic relationship crumbles as a new one forms. This is a wonderful example of the type of competition that life forms contend with in the highly diverse Amazon rainforest.