Friday, August 8, 2014

How Community Radio Fundraising is a lot like Symbiosis

Note: This show first aired on August 9, 2014.

Today we kick off Funathon here at WERU, the time when the station after months of giving and giving, asks for a little back. And the case that I want to make today, is that this is an entirely natural situation.

The typical view of nature is that of an adversarial relationship, think predator and prey, “survival of the fittest”, “nature red in tooth and claw”, its what most of us learned in school, and you could even go so far as to say our entire culture is built around this idea. Organisms compete for resources, those that get the resources win and go on living, those that don’t lose, and die. It’s a tough world out there, and it is, but there is more to the story than constant fighting over limited resources, in fact that is only a small chapter in the story of nature. In reality the main plot line goes something like this: I have a lot of something you need. You have a lot of something I need. Perhaps we should get together and share, and make both of our lives stronger as a result. 

This kind of relationship is a form of symbiosis, called mutualism, and though it doesn’t get much press in science class, it makes much of what we experience in the natural world and in our own bodies, possible. It makes us possible. You may have heard about the legume family hosting bacteria in their roots that allow them to fix gaseous nitrogen from the atmosphere into a bioavailable form, essentially they make their own fertilizer. Or better put, they provide the habitat for a bacteria that makes the fertilizer for them. The bacteria gets a safe place to live, the legume gets the nitrogen it needs, both parties increase their fitness and win. The same thing is happening in your body right now. In your gut are bacteria that are synthesizing essential nutrients, things you can’t get out of the food you eat yourself, but that can only come from the work of the microbes in your intestines. You provide a nice place for these bacteria to live, and a steady supply of food, and in return they synthesize vitamins for us. Win win. If you want to get away from bacteria, we can look at examples from other realms of life. Some 95% of plant families, including 80 % of plant species form relationships with fungal partners. These are mycorrhizal relationships, the filaments of the fungus intertwine and sometimes even invade the plant root cells and it can be hard to identify where one ends and the other begins. The fungus provides water and minerals from the soil to the plant, in return the plant provides simple carbohydrates to the fungus. Both are enriched by the relationship. The various animal mediated pollination strategies of flowering plants provide yet another example of mutualism in nature, the animals provide a service to the plant (pollination, or moving plant genetic material from individual to individual) and in most cases, the plant provides a material reward to the pollinating animal, in the form of nectar or protein rich excess pollen. We don’t even have time to talk about lichen.

The point of this, and there is a point, is that as listeners, your relationship with WERU is mutualistic. This radio station provides its listeners with a service, many services in fact, you know what they are, and you’ll be hearing reminders about them in the coming week. In nature, there is no such thing as a one way relationship, and that is true of radio stations as well. You give up a tiny piece of your soul when you listen to the incessant advertising of commercial radio, at least in my opinion. With WERU the give back is so much easier, its like the fungus in the soil, spreading unseen everywhere, providing water and a wide variety of minerals and nutrients to the plants (that’s you dear listener) that make up our community.  In return for the service the station provides, call us up and pledge your own little bit of simple carbohydrates. Just as in nature, both parties, the station and the community, are stronger as a result of this relationship.


Survey article on mycorrhizal relationships in plants: Wang, B 2006 “Phylogenetic distribution and evolution of mycorrhizas in land plants” Mycorrhiza 16 (5)