Relationship Status: Symbiosis

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SWBAT construct explanation that predicts patterns among organisms across multiple ecosystems.

Big Idea

Students explore symbiotic relationships across multiple ecosystems.


10 minutes

To engage students in lesson I show students the following video titled Symbiosis: A surprising tale of species cooperation by David Gonzales.  This video introduces students to symbiosis which is the topic students will explore during lesson.

Different species often depend on one another. David Gonzales describes the remarkable relationship of the Clark's Nutcracker and the Whitebark Pine, to illustrate the interdependency known as symbiosis. (MS-LS2-2. Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.) 


As students watch video they answer the following questions in their interactive notebooks:

1.  What's a simple definition of symbiosis?

a.  Two or more species occupying the same habitat who "specialize" and thus avoiding competing with one another for resources.

b.  It's what results from convergent evolution.

c.  A mutually beneficial relationship between different species.

d.  One species lives inside another species, and the host either benefits or is not affected one way or another.

2.  Flowering plants have a symbiotic relationship with honey bees and bumble bees.  What are other examples of symbiosis in nature?

3.  How does the Whitebark Pine benefit from its association with the Clark's Nutcracker?

a.  A single bird can "plant" up to 90,000 Whitebark Pine seeds each autumn.

b.  The birds, who nest exclusively in Whitebark Pine, eat harmful insects that would otherwise destroy the tree's' bark.

c.  It can produce up to a third fewer seeds in areas where its range overlaps with the bird,because of more efficient seed dispersal via the birds' eating and excreting the seeds across a wider area.

d.  More than 700,000 "likes" from Clark's Nutcracker fans on Facebook.

4.  Where does the Clark's Nutcracker store Whitebark Pine seeds, and how many can it store there?

a.  In its underground den, sometimes in piles of a thousand or more.

b.  In a pouch in its throat, up to 80 seeds at at time.

c.  In holes it hollows out in decaying logs; the largest cache on record is 755 seeds in one spot.

d.  In abandoned Mountain Bluebird nests, usually hundreds per nest.

5.  How do squirrels get the Whitebark Pine seeds?

a.  They wait for Clark's Nutcrackers to bury the seeds, then immediately dig them up.

b.  Through an elaborate trade agreement with the Clark's Nutcracker 

c.  They gather Whitebark pinecones that have fallen to the ground and store them high up in the trees, so that bears do not take them.

d.  They chew the pinecones off the branches and then gather them on the ground.

6.  Where can one find Whitebark Pine trees?

a.  The mountains of the western U.S. and Canada.

b.  The maritime forests of the Mid-Atlantic states.

c.  The swamps of the southern U.S. and Latin America.

d.  The Patagonian Desert in South America.


25 minutes

In this section of the lesson, students explore symbiosis by completing an online module courtesy of Canopy in the Clouds.

Canopy in the Clouds is designed to partner emerging professionals in science, photography, and cinematography to create the next generation of environmental outreach materials. The project seeks to:

  1. Promote conservation through educational media delivered in an innovative and engaging manner.
  2. Inspire young scientists by sharing our passion and excitement for carrying out science.
  3. Engage people in the beauty, biodiversity, and importance of tropical montane cloud forests from the perspective of the forest canopy.

For this particular lesson students complete the Symbiosis, Mutualism, Parasitism, and More module. (MS-LS2-2. Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems/SP2 - Developing and Using Models) 

Objectives: Students will be able to 1) differentiate between the three types of symbiotic relationships present within ecosystems 2) identify examples of symbiosis within the cloud forest 3) explain the importance of symbioses to the cloud forest ecosystem.


1.  Teacher Directions

2.  Symbiosis Student Handouts

Teacher Note:  I will add specifics to narrative once students have completed module.


10 minutes

In this section of lesson I have students read an article titled Symbiosis courtesy of cK-12.

This article focuses on the following topics:

1.  Explanation of symbiosis, including three types of symbiotic relationships

a.  mutualism

b.  communalism

c.  parasitism

Students use the Writing in the Margins strategy to access text.  

Writing in the margins engages readers in the reading task and allows them to document their thinking while reading. Both writing in the margins and drawing in the margins engages students in actively thinking about the texts they read. The power of this strategy is not the actual act of writing and drawing in the margins; instead, it is the thinking processes that students must undergo in order to produce such ideas. 

Students specifically use the summarizing strategy Writing in the Margins.


Briefly summarize paragraphs or sections of a text. Summarizing is a good way to keep track of essential information while condensing lengthier passages.

Summaries will...

  • state what the paragraph is about

  • describe what the author is doing

  • account for key terms and/or ideas. 

Once students have completed reading I have students answer the following text-dependent questions:(RST.6-8.1.Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.)


  1. What is symbiosis?
  2. Distinguish between mutualism and commensalism.
  3. Describe an example of a symbiotic relationship.
  4. What's an example of a parasite? 

In addition to above text I show students the Symbiosis: Mutualism, Commensalism, and Parasitism video which restates the information read in article.



10 minutes

In this section of the lesson, students elaborate on what they have learned about symbiotic relationships by exploring Symbiosis: When Living Together is a Win-Win courtesy of Cosmos Magazine.

Cosmos for Schools is a complete science package for secondary schools that includes print magazines and a digital site licence for your library, as well as interactive lessons based on breaking news in science for your teachers.

This site is a beautiful gallery of various examples of symbiotic relationships.  


1.  Lactobacillus and humans

2.  Sea anemones and hermit crabs

3.  Goby fish and snapping shrimp

4.  African oxpeckers

5.  Cells and Mitochondria

6.  Ants and fungi

7.  Coral and algae

8.  Cleaner fish

9.  Bees and orchids

Students choose one of this examples for their exit slip in the evaluate portion of lesson.


5 minutes


In this section of the lesson, students complete an Exit Slip where they are required to construct an explanation that describes symbiotic relationships (mutualism, commensalism, parasitism).  

In addition, students are required to predict what would occur to symbiotic relationship if one member no longer was present.(SP6 - Constructing Explanations/MS-LS2-2. Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems/CCC - Patterns - Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships)