The Role of Cooperation in Nature

In nature, “staying alive is as much about bonding with your neighbors as it is about growing and reproducing.”​—“Liaisons of Life.”

THE ocean was calm and quiet. The only disturbance was the din of dozens of seabirds. Their excitement indicated that something was happening below the surface. Suddenly, bubbles appeared, gradually forming a white ring. Moments later, two massive, dark forms appeared in the clear water in the middle of the ring. They were two humpback whales rising from the briny depths, their baleen-lined mouths agape. At the surface, they closed their massive jaws, spouted, and dived to repeat the performance.

The two whales were working as a team corralling and consuming masses of shrimplike krill. As if performing an underwater ballet, the 40-ton mammals dived below the crustaceans and swam in a tight circle while releasing air from their blowholes. This ingenious maneuver formed a “net” of bubbles around the krill. The whales then ascended vertically through the middle of their “net” and feasted on their prey.

On the plains of Africa, baboons and impalas often work together. “The two species form a mutual alarm system,” says the journal Scientific American. The impalas’ good  sense of smell complements the baboons’ keen eyesight, making it hard for predators to approach undetected. A similar partnership exists between ostriches, which have keen eyesight, and zebras, which have acute hearing.

These are just some of the countless examples of cooperation in the living world around us. Indeed, mutual support can be seen at every level of life, from microbes to man and between similar and dissimilar species. Thousands of years ago, King Solomon, who was a student of nature, observed the lowly ant. He wrote: “Go to the ant, you lazy one; see its ways and become wise. Although it has no commander, officer or ruler, it prepares its food even in the summer; it has gathered its food supplies even in the harvest.”​—Proverbs 6:6-8.

Ants are a model of cooperation, industry, and order, often working together to drag home objects much larger than themselves. Some ants will even assist injured or exhausted members of the colony back to their nest. In view of these traits, it is little wonder that Solomon chose ants as a model for us to imitate.

In the following articles, we will see how cooperation is a fundamental theme in the ‘book of nature,’ making life, including human life, possible. We will also learn about the opposite role humans play in exploiting the natural world, polluting it, and driving its creatures to extinction. Will the Creator allow this trend to continue forever?

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Above: Baboons and impalas form a mutual alarm system

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Ants are a model of cooperation

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A partnership exists between ostriches, with their keen eyesight, and zebras, with acute hearing