What is Protocooperation?

The Protocooperation Is a relationship of mutualism that occurs when two organisms interact with each other to obtain benefits. The relations of protocooperation can be given between individuals of different species and different kingdoms.

In protocooperation relationships, individuals are not bound to establish ties, they can survive without the help of the other; However, they do so, because it is profitable for both of them.

Protocooperation of birds and buffaloes Protocooperation of birds and buffaloes.

At this point, protocooperation opposes symbiosis, a relationship in which individuals depend on one another, so much so that the absence of one means the death of the other.

In nature, we are surrounded by samples of protocooperation. One of the most representative examples of this type of relationship is the one that happens between the bacteria of the soil and the vegetation that grows in it.

Neither bacteria need the plants nor the plants need the bacteria; However, this relationship benefits both: plants obtain nutrients produced by bacteria and bacteria obtain matter to decompose.

The example explained above occurs in all soils that are fertile, which shows that there is protocooperation almost anywhere.

Protocooperation and mutualism

Mutualism is a relationship between two species. These relationships can be of two types: symbiotic (when the relationship established guarantees the survival of at least one of the two individuals) and non-symbiotic (when the relationship is not mandatory, but optional).

To this last group belongs protocooperation, since the two individuals do not depend on each other to survive, but establish a relationship because it generates benefits for both.

What is Protocooperation? On the left, protocooperation. On the right, parasitism. / Photo retrieved from geobotany.uaf.edu.

In the above image, two groups of trees joined by root grafts are presented.

When the two organisms involved are more or less the same size, they can exchange hormones, food and other nutrients, which is beneficial for both.

Examples of protocooperation

1- Insects and flowers

There is a wide variety of insects, such as bees, bumble bees and butterflies, which feed on the nectar of flowers.

As they approach these flowers to extract the nectar, the body of the insects is impregnated with pollen, which they transport towards other flowers, favoring the pollination crusade.

In this protocooperation relationship, the plant reproduces at the same time as the insect feeds. What is Pollination?

Neither of the two organisms depends on this relationship to survive, since the plant could reproduce thanks to the action of the wind that also transports its pollen and the insect could feed on other substances.

2- Birds and mammals

Some birds, such as picabueyes, perch on large mammals (buffaloes, antelopes, giraffes and rhinoceroses) and feed on undesirable parasites of such animals (such as ticks, fleas, among others).

In this protocooperation relationship, the birds obtain transport while the mammal remains healthy thanks to the eradication of parasites.

It is also known that some picabueyes sing a warning when their mammal is in danger, which allows other animals to come to help.

3- Birds and flowers

Life cycle hummingbird

As with insects, certain birds, like the hummingbird, feed on the nectar of the flowers, impregnating themselves with pollen, which they then transport to other plants.

4 - Relationships of protocooperation between fishes

There is a group of fish called"fish cleaners", because they are responsible for cleaning other fish, called customers.

Cleaners are usually smaller animals so that they can enter into confined spaces (like the mouths of other fish).

Also, cleaners usually concentrate on reefs to which customers come to receive cleaning services.

In this protocooperation relationship, fish cleaners feed on parasites, dead tissue and damaged tissue from clients' skin. For their part, customers are kept clean thanks to the cleaning. What is Protocooperation?

One example of this is the pilot fish ( Naucrates duct R). These fish usually accompany the sharks, feeding on the parasites and the food remains that the shark leaves. Some sharks even allow the pilot fish to enter their mouths to clean it.

Rarely do sharks feed on pilot fish, so these are safe with the shark.

5- Ants and aphids

The aphids feed on the sage of the plants opening holes in the leaves of these. Ants, instead of eating aphids, stimulate them with their antennae to secrete a substance called"ligamaza,"which is nourishing for ants.

In exchange for the food, the ant protects the aphids from predators, takes them to fresh leaves when the leaves they were feeding on are already dry and safe from rain.

Some biologists even claim that ants keep a"herd"of aphids that they"milk"when they need food.

The relationship between ant and aphid is beneficial for both, but can cause plant death.

6- The sea anemone and the hermit crab

The sea anemone ( Adamsia ) Is attached to the shell of the crab ( Eupagurus ) And this one transports to the anemone towards zones in which this one can be fed and, in return, the anemone protects and gives food to the crab.

7- Mycorrhizae and plants

What is Protocooperation?  1 On the left, endomycorrhizae (internal). To the right, ectomycorrhizae (external) / Photo retrieved from mhhe.com.

Mycorrhizae with associations between fungi and the roots of vascular plants. Mycorrhizae extend the root absorption field and increase the amount of nutrients absorbed by the plant, such as zinc, copper and phosphorus. For its part, the plant provides carbon to the fungus.


  1. Protocooperation. Retrieved on June 7, 2017, from oxfordreference.com.
  2. Lesson 10: Species Interactions. Retrieved on June 7, 2017, from geobotany.uaf.edu.
  3. Protocooperation. Retrieved on June 7, 2017, from en.wikipedia.org.
  4. Protocooperation. Retrieved on June 7, 2017, from merriam-webster.com.
  5. What is protocooperation? Retrieved on June 7, 2017, from coolinterview.com.
  6. Mutualism. Retrieved on June 7, 2017, from mcdaniel.edu.
  7. Fungi. Retrieved on June 7, 2017, from mhhe.com.

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