A second type of symbiotic relationship is called mutualism, in which two species benefit from their interaction. For example, termites have a mutualistic relationship with protists that live in the insect’s gut (Figure 19.21). The termite benefits from the ability of the protists to digest cellulose. However, the protists are able to digest cellulose only because of the presence of symbiotic bacteria within their cells that produce the cellulase enzyme. The termite itself cannot do this: without the protozoa, it would not be able to obtain energy from its food (cellulose from the wood it chews and eats). The protozoa benefit by having a protective environment and a constant supply of food from the wood chewing actions of the termite. In turn, the protists benefit from the enzymes provided by their bacterial endosymbionts, while the bacteria benefit from a doubly protective environment and a constant source of nutrients from two hosts. Lichen are a mutualistic relationship between a fungus and photosynthetic algae or cyanobacteria (Figure 19.21). The glucose produced by the algae provides nourishment for both organisms, whereas the physical structure of the lichen protects the algae from the elements and makes certain nutrients in the atmosphere more available to the algae. The algae of lichens can live independently given the right environment, but many of the fungal partners are unable to live on their own.
Figure 19.21 (a) Termites form a mutualistic relationship with symbiotic protozoa in their guts, which allow both organisms to obtain energy from the cellulose the termite consumes. (b) Lichen is a fungus that has symbiotic photosynthetic algae living in close association.