In order for any ecosystem to thrive the organisms therein must reach symbiosis. This is as much an evolutionary relationship as it is balance of the predator/prey relationship. For example, we know that some animals and plants function better during the summer months while others function better during winter. Obviously, these are seasonal organisms. We also know, though, that the human digestive tract is home to millions of bacteria which, in any other situation, might be deadly but instead help to keep us healthy.
Well, scientists have also long known that a certain species of long-necked wading birds in Florida’s Everglades have always lived among alligators to keep other predators at bay.
The study authors describe, in their report: “In mixed-species wading bird nesting colonies in the southeastern United States, medium-sized, arboreal, semiaquatic mammals such as North American raccoons (Procyon lotor) and Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) present the greatest nest predation threat, and these birds have no evolved defenses against such nest predators.”
However, it was not until recently that scientist took a closer look to find that the birds were not the only benefactors.
According to a new study—published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE—these birds will live just above the reptilian marsh dwellers to protect their offspring from mammalian nest predators. At the same time, though, it appears that payment for the alligator protectors can, ironically, come in the form of chicks which fall from the nest; baby birds which the alligators get to eat.
The study authors describe: “There appears to be a beneficial interaction between the alligators and nesting birds, where birds nest above alligators for protection, but chicks that fall from the nest may also provide a food source for the alligators.”
Lead study author Lucas Nell adds, “Our study is the first to demonstrate a mutually beneficial relationship between nesting birds and a crocodilian.” The University of Florida scientist goes on to say, “Nesting wading birds provide nutrition for alligators that, by their mere presence, create predator-free space for birds.”
He also comments that they will now need to conduct more studies to further investigate this relationship; a relationship which seems to assist in the survival of two thriving—and extremely important—species groups in this region.