Mutualism Shows Life Design

Mutualism Shows Life Design - Nitrogen-fixing nodules on legume roots
Nitrogen-fixing nodules on legume roots

We call it mutualism when various complex relationships occur between two species, producing codependency and benefits to both. There are two kinds of mutualisms. In obligate mutualism, both species depend on each other for survival. Facultative mutualism refers to relationships that benefit the species, but they could survive without it. Looking at life on Earth, we see many examples of how mutualism shows life design.

In Borneo, a carnivorous pitcher plant and wooly bats have a relationship of obligate mutualism. The plant lures bats in with an echo reflector, but the plant doesn’t eat the bat. The pitcher plant grows in soils with low nutrients and needs additional fertilizer. The droppings of the bats provide that fertilizer, enabling the plant to survive. The woolly bats are easy victims of predatory animals, but during the daytime, when the bat isn’t hunting insects, it finds refuge and protection inside the pitcher plant. The plant and the bat depend on this relationship, but no one would suggest they are related.

Legumes such as beans, peas, and clover form a mutualism with bacteria. The bacteria can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, turning it into ammonia. The plants use the nitrogen from the ammonia to synthesize proteins needed for growth. The plants serve the bacteria by housing them in root nodules and providing them with sugars and oxygen so they can grow. Once again, mutualism shows life design.

There are a vast number of smaller organisms that depend upon obligate mutualism. An example is a green-brown spongy sludge that grows on the marshes of the Florida Everglades. It may look like a toxic algal bloom drawing oxygen from the water. But instead of being destructive, it is a mutual design of algae, fungi, microbes, and bacteria. This perfectly matched relationship is called a periphyton. It is a system of life that provides the basis for the entire food chain of the Everglades and another example of how mutualism shows life design.

Trying to explain how mutualism became part of Earth’s living systems by a chance process takes a huge imagination and a great deal of faith. It seems far more likely that mutualism is not an accident but part of God’s design for life. The more we know of the creation, the closer we get to the Creator.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

References: BBC News for February 14, 2024, and Wikipedia