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Fine Reading: Predation

Big fish eat little fish, and so on, the ultimate “so on” being the microbes, which are typically placed at the bottom of the food web. In the oceans, bacteria are commonly set upon by protists, in soils also by nematodes and other small animals. And everywhere, there lurk virulent phages and even bacteriovorus bacteria. Add to the list a form of bacterial predation aptly called cannibalism, where a species attacks and destroys a close relative. With all these threats, microbes in nature continually face a perilous future. Predation is a broad term encompassing many kinds of interactions that take parasitism to the extreme—one party eating and the other being eaten. Our sympathy is often with the prey (the sheep being eaten by the wolf). On the other hand, we use a gentler term for the gobbling-up of prey, “grazing,” which brings to mind sheep pastorally nibbling on grass in a meadow and makes it easier for us to look kindly upon the predator.

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