It is important that young people realize that cooperative / mutualistic relationships abound in the worlds around – and within – us. So much emphasis tends to be placed upon brutal, competitive interactions such as those sometimes found in food chains. Yet just as vital are the symbiotic, coevolved relationships. A few examples include the partnerships between most Northeastern forest trees and the the mycorrhizal fungi that ferry minerals into the trees’ roots in exchange for plant sugars; between leguminous plants and the bacteria who live in coevolved root nodules enjoying food and protection as they transform nitrogen compounds into forms that the plants can use; between bacteria and the digestive systems of most animals; between creatures who reduce the populations of beings who would otherwise consume too many other living beings (trophic cascades such as those between certain insectivorous birds and particular species of trees); or between various animals and land plants who aid one another in energy transfer and pollination or seed dispersal. These mutualistic relationships are ubiquitous and essential to the functioning of biomes – not only in the Northeast Forestlands but globally.
Here is a simple, introductory worksheet that reinforces students’ awareness of some of these partnerships. Encourage them to color the various creatures (time permitting) and to then draw lines illustrating how these common animals are rather directly linked to the survival and well-being of certain plants. Following an actual field trip, readings, or discussions, the page can be completed as an individual or class project. This process, we hope, will enable young people to better appreciate the networks of reciprocity, as well as competition, that sustain healthy ecosystems.
Here is the PDF: Plant and Animal Partnerships EB