How Do Plants & Animals Depend on Each Other?

The global ecosystem depends on both plants and animals to survive -- and as part of that ecosystem, plants and animals need each other. Although their symbiotic relationship is sometimes subtle, at other times their impact on one another is striking.

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Giraffes are herbivores that depend on plants as their sole food source.

Function

Purple coneflower (Magus Echinacea Purpurea) and Bee, close-up
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Bees pollinate flowers.

Plants and animals benefit each other as members of food chains and ecosystems. For instance, flowering plants rely on bees and hummingbirds to pollinate them, while animals eat plants and sometimes make homes in them. When animals die and decompose, they enrich the soil with nitrates that stimulate plant growth.

Symbiosis

Hummingbird
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Flowering plants rely on hummingbirds to pollinate them.

Many relationships between plants and animals are mutually beneficial. For instance, flowers need hummingbirds to pollinate them, just as hummingbirds need the flowers' nectar to refuel.

Global Significance

African elephant (Loxodonta africana) and calf, Masai Mara N.R, Kenya
credit: Anup Shah/Digital Vision/Getty Images
If a species goes extinct, many others suffer.

Plants provide a global benefit to animals by releasing oxygen into the atmosphere. Although pollination and food chains affect only a few local plants and animals, they frequently overlap to form larger food webs that contain hundreds or even thousands of wildlife species. This global significance means that when one plant or animal goes extinct, many others suffer as a result.