Examples of Symbiotic Relationships in the Deciduous Forest

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Examples of Symbiotic Relationships in the Deciduous Forest

A symbiotic relationship is defined as a relationship in which two organisms interact with one another. There are various examples of symbiotic relationships such as mutualism, commensalism, parasitism and more seen between organisms inhabiting the deciduous forest.

Commensalism or Mutualism?

Coyote and Badger

While searching for food, coyotes prefer the company of badgers that are efficient in digging out animals from their burrows. Badgers are not fast runners, while coyotes are. The two get together while chasing for food and coyotes benefit from the badgers’ digging abilities. It is unclear whether badgers derive any advantage from coyotes, thus making it difficult to say whether their relationship is that of mutualism or commensalism.

Deciduous forests are home to a wide variety of plants and animals. They are found in North America, Europe, southwest Russia, Japan, eastern China, southern Chile, New Zealand, and southeastern Australia. The trees found in these forests include ash, oak, lime, beech, birch, and northern arrowwood. Among animals, red squirrels, coyotes, timberwolves, mountain lions, American bald eagles, Eastern chipmunks, European hedgehogs, raccoons, deer, and beavers inhabit the deciduous forests. They share different ecological relationships, one of them being symbiosis.

The word symbiotic, in a broader sense, means ‘living in concert’. The two members that are involved in a symbiotic relationship are known as symbionts. Mutualism, commensalism, parasitism, amensalism, and the predator-prey relationship are the main types of symbiosis.

In a mutualistic relationship, symbionts benefit from each other. In commensalism, one participant enjoys the benefits from the other participant without causing any harm to it. In a parasitic relationship, one organism thrives on another organism, thus harming it. In a predator-prey relationship, one member is a prey and the other is its predator. Amensalism is a relationship between two organisms where one species is conquered and the other is unaffected. Competition and antibiosis are the two kinds of amensalism. In competition, two members hunt for the same type of food (the larger/stronger member emerges winner). In antibiosis, one organism is killed by another through a chemical secretion. Synnecrosis is a type of symbiosis where the interaction between two members is detrimental to both the organisms involved. Described below are some examples of symbiotic relationships between organisms living in the deciduous forests.


Eastern Chipmunk and Oak Tree

Chipmunk On Oak Tree

The eastern chipmunk has a mutualistic relationship with the oak tree. The chipmunk takes shelter from the tree. Staying on these trees help it seek protection from predators. It takes seeds from the tree and disperses them, thus benefiting the tree too.

Birds and Deer

White-tailed Deer On Grass

Deer allow birds to eat bugs off their fur. In this way, deer can get rid of the insects on their bodies, while birds derive their food from them.

Ants and Plant Thorns

Ant On Plant Thorn

Ants in the deciduous forest nest inside the plants’ thorns to take food and shelter from them. In turn, the ants protect the plants from attack by herbivores.

Morels and Plants

Morel through the Iris Leaves

Morels attach to the roots of plants to derive nutrition from them. Due to the attachment, the absorption capacities of the plant increase. Thus, even the plant benefits from the relationship.


Red Squirrels and Oak Tree

Red Squirrel in the Oak

An example of commensalism in the deciduous forest is that of red squirrels and oak trees. The squirrel receives shelter and food from the oak tree. The oak tree is neither harmed nor benefited from this relationship.

Moss and Oak Tree

Moss on Oak Tree

Moss thrives on the barks of oak trees. The oak tree is unaffected while the moss is saved from choking due to the leaf litter. Here again, the moss is benefiting without harming the oak tree.

Pseudoscorpions and Trees

Book Scorpion

Pseudoscorpions eat mites under the trees. Thus, they derive food with the help of the trees, without benefiting or harming them.

Racoons/Owls and Trees

Racoons on a Tree

Racoons and owls live in the trees for shelter and the tree is neither harmed nor benefited.

Insects and Trees

Some insects have developed to look like twigs or leaves. This makes it difficult for the predators to spot them. This benefits the insects and the tree is not harmed.


White-tailed Deer and Ticks

Tick on White Tailed Deer

A classic example of parasitism in the deciduous forest would be the relationship between a tick and a white-tailed deer. The tick stays and feeds on the nutrients in the deer. In this process, the deer may get an infectious disease from the tick. The tick sucks in nutrients from the deer and harms it.

American Beech Tree and Beech Drops

Another example of a parasitic relationship would be that between the American beech tree and a plant called beech drops. Beech drops solely grow under beech trees. They lack chlorophyll. They live wholly on the sap of the beech tree. The beech drops have a special root structure known as a haustorium which helps them adhere to the host plant.

Laetiporus sulphureus and Oak Tree

Laetiporus sulphureus on Oak Tree

The fungus Laetiporus sulphureus and oak trees share a parasitic relationship. The fungus sucks in nutrients form the oak tree because of which the oak tree does not get all the nutrients it needs.

Mistletoe and Mangrove Tree

The mistletoe grows on mangrove trees. It penetrates through the bark of the tree and takes in nutrients, thus weakening the mangrove tree.

Catalpa Hornworm and Cotesia Congregata

The wasp Cotesia congregata injects its eggs into the body of the caterpillar catalpa hornworm with the help of a long sting-like ovipositor. The wasps may also lay eggs on the leaves which are eaten by the caterpillar. These eggs grow into larvae which feed inside the caterpillar. When the wasp grubs grow, they break out through the skin of the larvae and form cocoons. The caterpillar then dies. After a few days, adult wasps come out of the cocoons and find another caterpillar to parasitize.

Sycamore Lace Bug and Sycamore

Parasitism in the deciduous forest is also seen between sycamore lace bug and sycamore. The bugs adhere to the leaves of the sycamore to suck out juices from it.

Oak Treehoppers and Oak Tree

Oak Treehoppers on Oak Tree

The treehoppers suck out sap from the oak tree, thus making the tree devoid of nutrients.

Indian Pipes and Mycorrhizae

Indian Pipe

The Indian Pipes plant lacks chlorophyll and cannot produce food on its own. It taps into the mycorrhizae and derives carbohydrates from them. The mycorrhizae get carbohydrates from their photosynthesizing plant partner.

Squawroot and Oak Tree

Close Up of Squawroot

The squawroot is a flowering plant that gets its energy by tapping into the oak’s roots.

Bobcat and Tapeworm


The tapeworm lives inside the bobcat and gets its nutrition. The bobcat is harmed in this association.

Predator-Prey Relationship

Bobcat and Deer

Bobcat attacked Deer

Bobcat, the predator feeds on deer and small rodents.

Mountain Lion and Caribou

In a predator-prey relationship, one member is a prey and the other member is the predator. An example of this relationship would be a mountain lion preying on a caribou.

Owls and Birds

Gray Owl eating a Mouse

An owl feeds on rodents and other small birds.

Skunks and Insects

Skunks feed on insects and by using their anal scent glands, defend themselves against predators.

Opossum and Insects/Birds/Frogs/Snakes

Opossum eating a Rodent

Opossum feeds on insects, frogs, birds, snakes, small mammals, slugs and earthworms. To defend themselves, they act as a dead or sick animal. They hiss at their target if they feel threatened.

Mountain Lions and White-Tailed Deer

Mountain Lion Killed Deer

Mountain lions are the predators and the white-tailed deer are their prey.

Dog-day Cicada and Cicada-Killer Wasp

Dog-day cicada are preyed on by cicada-killer wasps. These wasps can sting and paralyze a cicada. They fly it home to their burrow and bury it with an egg on it. The egg hatches and the larva of the wasp eats the flesh of the cicada.

Copperheads and Rodents

Copperhead eating Rodent

Copperheads, the predators, eat rodents, their prey.

Red-Shouldered Hawk and Lizards/Insects/Rodents

Red-shouldered Hawk Eating Insects

The hawk preys on lizards, insects, and various rodents.

Hawk and Squirrel

Hawk Eating Squirrel

The relationship between a hawk and a squirrel is a predator prey type. The hawk is the predator and squirrels are the prey.

Eastern Chipmunk and Bald Eagle

The eastern chipmunk is food for the bald eagle.


Cougar and Bear

An example of competition would be the cougar and the bears. Both these animals fight over fish and deer.

Kudzu and Trees

Kudzu and Trees

The Kudzu competes with trees for sunlight. It grows up the tree trunk to the top to get sunlight for itself. This in turn deprives the trees from the energy intake from sunlight. The Kudzu also sucks energy from it. The tree dies, leaving the Kudzu as the winner.

Coyotes and Wolves

Coyotes and wolves eat animals like hares, small birds, and squirrels. They compete for food.

Bears and Coyotes

Animals like bears and coyotes compete in temperate deciduous forests for food and territory.

Squirrel and Chipmunk

The squirrel and the chipmunk compete for food. They also compete with other animals for resources like nesting sites or mates.


Black Walnut and Other Plants

Black Walnut is an important tree in the deciduous forest. Its leaves and roots secrete hydrojuglone, a chemical, that kills other plants near it.

Deciduous forests are just a small part of the ecosystem. Thus, the symbiotic relationships given here are only a glimpse of the many different ways in which living beings co-exist on earth.

Woodland Nature
Salix Arctica

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