The growth rate of the acacia tree increases by having sequential associations of several partners to meet changing needs.

“Trees that sequentially partner with multi-species sets of ants produce more offspring than trees that maintain a lifelong association with any single ant…said Todd Palmer, a UF [University of Florida] biology professor…’Looking at the costs and benefits to the tree, not just at a single moment, but in terms of number of offspring produced over a lifetime, the best possible outcome is obtained not by having what we thought was the ‘good mutualist,’ but rather by having all four ant species at different life stages…,’ [Palmer] said. The key to the new findings is the timing. When a species lives a long time, its needs may change drastically as it grows from young to old, and sequential associations with several partners may help it meet those needs at different times, he said…[A] mutualistic species may require a partner that helps it survive during its vulnerable younger years, even if that partner prevents it from reproducing, Palmer said. Later in life, when large size makes individuals less vulnerable, the ideal partner may be one that enhances reproduction even as it reduces the chances of longer-term survival, he said.” (Palmer 2010:1)

Abstracted Design Principle: An entity benefits from a changing partners in mutualistic relationships, depending on its needs as it matures. For example, at first it might need a partner that provides support until it can stand on its own, then it might need a partner that provides nutrients or resources. Next, to grow larger, it might need a partner that helps it become, and finally another partner might help it expand or branch out. Artist: Emily Harrington. Copyright: All rights reserved. See gallery for details.

Image: Emily Harrington / 

Created by Emily Harrington of eh illustration, This work shall be and remain at all times the shared property of Emily Harrington and the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute, and Emily Harrington grants to the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute a non‑terminating, nonexclusive, non‑limiting right to use the materials for educational purposes. Any use by outside parties requires permission from Emily Harrington and can be requested from [email protected] or through the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute.

Image: Sherry Ritter / 

This application idea of the AskNature strategy presents three stages, A, B, and C. In the first stage, researchers, a company, and government funder work together. In stage B, as the company grows, the government funding is replaced by an angel investor and in stage C, private equity provides the funding. The researchers may also change during various stages of the company.

Last Updated August 18, 2016