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What is our relationship to the plants and animals we eat.

 
 
Reply Wed 27 Sep, 2006 12:28 pm
Would our relationship to the animals and plants we raise and eat be considered mutualism, commensalism, parasitism, or predation?

We raise dairy cows for milk; ants milk aphids and generally give them protection, and this is usually called mutualism. But after our milk cows get older we slaughter them for food. Is this mutualism or outright parasitism?

What about raising animals for slaughter? What about growing plants for food or other purposes? The plant gets a life it otherwise wouldn't, but then it is killed.

I'm not making any judgements concerning the morality of taking like for survival, but I am curious about the terminology.
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patiodog
 
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Reply Wed 27 Sep, 2006 12:45 pm
Well, in outright parasitism, the parasite confers no benefit to the host whatsoever. Agricultural species (plant or animal), on the other hand, are generally protected and aided in reproduction (in one way or another) to their clear benefit (that is, if we define benefit as an increased number of progeny/size of population/etc.).

Pretty much an academic exercise, though, and you could probably make a convincing case for any of the classifications (with the possible exception of predation).
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coluber2001
 
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Reply Wed 27 Sep, 2006 12:58 pm
It's true that that the hosts of parasites receive no benefit. Consider the Masai of Africa who raise cattle and live on their milk and blood. The cattle are very skinny, but they do get protection from predators although they get no extra food than what they graze.
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rosborne979
 
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Reply Wed 27 Sep, 2006 04:01 pm
If we didn't raise cows for food, they probably wouldn't exist at all (would have become extinct long ago).

Your question sort of depends on scope (how long a time, and how diverse an environment).

All animals are parasites on plants. Even animals which eat other animals are ultimately supported by plants which derive energy from the sun. The manure of some animals however may allow new species of plants to exist due to richer nutrient sources. Thus a particuar species of plant may owe it's existence to animals (Venus Flytrap) even though the Kingdom of plants overall is parasitized by animals.

I would call our relationship with cows and chickens symbiotic, even though we ultimately consume some of them.
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patiodog
 
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Reply Wed 27 Sep, 2006 04:50 pm
How to tease apart predation and parasitism in regard to humans? Intuitively, it would seem that the parasite is capable of feeding on the host (or robbing it of unabsorbed nutrients) without actually killing the host (though they may, of course, kill the host, particularly if the parasite finds itself in a host in which it did not evolve), while a predator must dispatch of its host (or, rather, prey) before it can feed.

So, we might be said to parasitize the apple tree (though we raised the seed from which it grew, put the seed in the ground, watered it, protected it from the elements and other predators and parasites, and so forth) because we partake without killing. On the other hand, we might be said to be predatorial towards wheat, because we kill it before we eat it.
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rosborne979
 
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Reply Wed 27 Sep, 2006 07:59 pm
patiodog wrote:
How to tease apart predation and parasitism in regard to humans? Intuitively, it would seem that the parasite is capable of feeding on the host (or robbing it of unabsorbed nutrients) without actually killing the host (though they may, of course, kill the host, particularly if the parasite finds itself in a host in which it did not evolve), while a predator must dispatch of its host (or, rather, prey) before it can feed.

So, we might be said to parasitize the apple tree (though we raised the seed from which it grew, put the seed in the ground, watered it, protected it from the elements and other predators and parasites, and so forth) because we partake without killing. On the other hand, we might be said to be predatorial towards wheat, because we kill it before we eat it.


In the broadest sense, all parts of the biosphere of this planet are probably symbiotic, at least at this stage of biological evolution. There are probably very few organisms which would survive all by themselves if everything else were to be exterminated.
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coluber2001
 
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Reply Thu 28 Sep, 2006 11:04 am
rosborne979 wrote:
If we didn't raise cows for food, they probably wouldn't exist at all (would have become extinct long ago).

Your question sort of depends on scope (how long a time, and how diverse an environment).

All animals are parasites on plants. Even animals which eat other animals are ultimately supported by plants which derive energy from the sun. The manure of some animals however may allow new species of plants to exist due to richer nutrient sources. Thus a particuar species of plant may owe it's existence to animals (Venus Flytrap) even though the Kingdom of plants overall is parasitized by animals.

I would call our relationship with cows and chickens symbiotic, even though we ultimately consume some of them.


Cattle were bred from aurochs that died out by the early 17th century probably from a human cause. If we consider the herd, rather than an individual auroch, then we can say that we parasitized the herd. The auroch could and did live without humans, and, you might say, we made them dependent on us and parasitised them. A similar case can be made for lichens, which have been thought of as mutualism between an alga and a fungus. But mant botantists consider it to be a controlled parasitism by the fungus, which feeds on the algal colony, thouth the alga could live by itself.

I always thought that animals predated plants, but usually the plant survives, especially woody plants, so it probably is parasitism.

Cultivated food plants were all derived from wild counterparts, and left alone they probably would survive in the wild and revert back to more original forms. I can see where it could be said that we parasitize plants in that sense.
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