SAY WHAT ???
For the past few years, I've grown a few tomato plants behind our screen house (called a "bird cage" down here in Central Florida). The tomato plants took care of their own pollination with the aid of helpful bees and other insects.
This year, for the first time, I also grew a tomato plant from a "topsy-turvey" upside-down gadget hanging inside our bird cage where there are no insects to do the pollination job. So, it was either depend upon the wind - or do it myself!
The tomato blossom has both male and female parts. Normally, the buzzing of bees or other insects vibrates the blossom, causing the pollen, which is inside the male stamen (the straw-like thing hanging down from the center of the blossom in the inset photo - click image for a larger version) to loosen and shower out. Some of it drops onto the female pistil which hangs out just below the end of the stamen. Absent insects in my bird cage, I had to take matters into my own hands. That is where the electric toothbrush came in. It is the closest thing to the buzzing of the bee's wings that do the job naturally.
It turns out that tomatoes like to have sex at high noon, on sunny days that are not too humid. I was pleased to see the white powder fall out of the blossoms as I gently vibrated them. It was such a satisfying feeling that I immediately did the same for the blossoms outside the bird cage. Why let the insects have all the fun?
The Tomato Gaia
Which brings us to the mini-Goddesses who unite insects and plants in a symbiotic relationship. Some plants have their male and female parts in separate places, or on separate plants, which requires the bees (or other insects, or animals, including hummingbirds, etc.) to get the pollen on their bodies and transport it from the male to the female part. In each case, the animal polinators are drawn to the plants by olifactory and visual signals and are rewarded with food.
In the case of the tomato, with both male and female parts close together, all it takes is vibration and that may be supplied by the wind. However, the wind may blow the pollen far and wide, wasting a lot of it. The wind is less discriminating than a bee, for example, which is why the tomato blossom holds its pollen within a straw-like structure and releases it most readily in response to the particular frequency of the bee's wings during the middle of the day when bees are most likely to be active.
Bees who specialize in tomato pollination have evolved to buzz at the most suitable range of frequencies, and, for their part, tomato blossoms have evolved to release pollen when stimulated at those frequencies. Like many mutually-beneficial relationships, individual bees and tomato plants have no idea why they grow and behave as they do, but, if we look at the situation from the species level, we can see that "trial and error" evolution and natural selection has generated an almost perfect matching.
The Gaia hypothesis (named for the Greek Goddess of the Earth) is the idea that co-evolution tends to encourage this type of inadvertent cooperation between living organisms because groups of organisms, including organisms of multiple species, who form these relationships tend to survive and reproduce more successfully than those that do not.
Thus, over the eons of life on Earth, we might say groups of organisms have learned cooperative, mutually-beneficial behaviors. Since these behaviors are not simply adaptations by a single species, they must have been learned at a higher level. (In the case of the bee/tomato relationship, had the bees vibrated at a different frequency the tomato would have evolved to that frequency, and vice-versa, so the adaptation is not simply of the bees or of the tomato blossoms, but at some higher level). I choose to call this level the mini-Gaia of the bees and tomatoes.
Extending this to, say, the ecology surrounding a semi-isolated pond or island or valley, etc., where millions or billions of individual plants, insects and animals of hundreds or thousands of different species interact in a complex food chain of cooperation and competition, the "formula" for ecological balance is clearly at a higher level than any individual organism or species.
I consider that a higher level of mini-Gaia. The island-Gaia or pond-Gaia behaves as if it had a goal of self-preservation. Indeed, if a neighboring jurisdiction has an ecological failure, the more succesful mini-Gaia(s) will send invaders that may colonize the failed area with a more balanced ecology, equivalent to the reproduction of a mini-Gaia! If the failed jurisdiction is settled by a combination of life forms from two or more neighboring jurisdictions, that is kind of like sexual reproduction, is it not?
If it turns out to be the case that the biosphere of the Earth (which can be thought of as the Congress of all the mini-Gaias of different levels) has evolved the ability to moderate climate change by controlling cloud formation and/or other natural phenomena, we might say that the Gaia is equivalent to a sentient organism intent on self-preservation and -who knows- reproduction on Earth-like planets in other galaxies, see The Hawking Plan (my free online novel).