In attempting to draw plausible or even valid conclusions concerning life, marine or terrestrial, we may be tempted by the status quo, or normal thinking, to practice reductionism. This is the normal MO practiced in academia. You break things into subjects and study them intensely. This will distort understanding. If you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If one is trained as a surgeon, the most obvious answer is to cut it out.
Alternately, one can look at the pieces and then see how they fit with other pieces. There is a rock-paper-scissors game going on underwater, and on land. One thing can’t over power everything. It can overcome some things because of it’s strengths, and is overpowered by other things, because of it’s weaknesses. It is the environment that selects what is a strength and what is a weakness.
The most common method it to rank, evaluate or judge life forms according to select parameters: size, population, complexity, intelligence or even kill counts.
Some say bigger is better. Therefore, a stand of trees in the Pacific northwest, connected by mycelial fungus would count as the largest living thing we have discovered. Elephants, blue whales, hippos and great white sharks would be at one end, and mosquitoes would be at the other. Yes, on average, between 10-13 people die every year from shark attacks. Passengers could feel a fear of sharks just before entering the water. Yet the mosquito, with it’s transmission of malaria, kills million annually.
Some reckon that intelligence is the prime determiner of who is on top. This would place humans, the inventors of thousands of carcinogenics compounds, pesticides, GMO’s, and WMD at the top. Using intelligence as a metric is not helpful. If the race is based on population, then clearly the bacteria have won. Looking at superlatives is not helpful. It is how the life forms interact with one another, that gives value, stability, and resilience to a system.
A more helpful method is to look at relationships between living creatures and place those relationships on a sliding scale, base on whether it is a parasitical or mutually beneficial relationship. On one end is the lion-eat-antilope, big-fish-eat-little-fish, war, aggression selfish attitude. The other end would be life forms working together, for the benefit of the whole. The opposite of war and aggression is peace, love (God), happiness etc. Me is on one end We is on the other. Rather than debate the existence (or non-existence) of God, we could use the term: symbiosis, mutually interdependent relationship or even synergy. We could capitalize the ‘s’ for all theists who would enjoy seeing that. Synergy!
In Bermuda, the corals have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthalae algae. The coals, being animals, give off nitrogenous waste and CO2. The plants do not call that waste, but rather, fertilizer. They then photosynthesize quite efficiently, putting out oxygen as their ‘waste’ product. This benefits the corals, which are animals, and the whole benefits in a co-operative relationship, rather than a competitive one.
This lens, or way of looking at living creatures is far more helpful in figuring out what is going on, and how to progress. Is one acting for the most benefit for as many as possible, or just in self interest? This paradigm is great for analyzing, biology, sociology, economics, race, gender issues, politics, religion, medicine, or even all corporate behavior.