Simulations reveal challenges to artificial community selection and possible strategies for success.
ABSTRACT: Multispecies microbial communities often display "community functions" arising from interactions of member species. Interactions are often difficult to decipher, making it challenging to design communities with desired functions. Alternatively, similar to artificial selection for individuals in agriculture and industry, one could repeatedly choose communities with the highest community functions to reproduce by randomly partitioning each into multiple "Newborn" communities for the next cycle. However, previous efforts in selecting complex communities have generated mixed outcomes that are difficult to interpret. To understand how to effectively enact community selection, we simulated community selection to improve a community function that requires 2 species and imposes a fitness cost on one or both species. Our simulations predict that improvement could be easily stalled unless various aspects of selection are carefully considered. These aspects include promoting species coexistence, suppressing noncontributors, choosing additional communities besides the highest functioning ones to reproduce, and reducing stochastic fluctuations in the biomass of each member species in Newborn communities. These considerations can be addressed experimentally. When executed effectively, community selection is predicted to improve costly community function, and may even force species to evolve slow growth to achieve species coexistence. Our conclusions hold under various alternative model assumptions and are therefore applicable to a variety of communities.
Project description:The dynamics and stability of ecological communities are intimately linked with the specific interactions-like cooperation or predation-between constituent species. In microbial communities, like those found in soils or the mammalian gut, physical anisotropies produced by fluid flow and chemical gradients impact community structure and ecological dynamics, even in structurally isotropic environments. Although natural communities existing in physically unstructured environments are rare, the role of environmental structure in determining community dynamics and stability remains poorly studied. To address this gap, we used modified Lotka-Volterra simulations of competitive microbial communities to characterize the effects of surface structure on community dynamics. We find that environmental structure has profound effects on communities, in a manner dependent on the specific pattern of interactions between community members. For two mutually competing species, eventual extinction of one competitor is effectively guaranteed in isotropic environments. However, addition of environmental structure enables long-term coexistence of both species via local "pinning" of competition interfaces, even when one species has a significant competitive advantage. In contrast, while three species competing in an intransitive loop (as in a game of rock-paper-scissors) coexist stably in isotropic environments, structural anisotropy disrupts the spatial patterns on which coexistence depends, causing chaotic population fluctuations and subsequent extinction cascades. These results indicate that the stability of microbial communities strongly depends on the structural environment in which they reside. Therefore, a more complete ecological understanding, including effective manipulation and interventions in natural communities of interest, must account for the physical structure of the environment.
Project description:How evolution creates and maintains trait patterns in species-rich communities is still an unsolved topic in evolutionary ecology. One classical example of community-level pattern is the unexpected coexistence of different mimicry rings, each of which is a group of mimetic species with the same warning signal. The coexistence of different mimicry rings in a community seems paradoxical because selection among unpalatable species should favor convergence to a single warning pattern. We combined mathematical modeling based on network theory and numerical simulations to explore how different types of selection, such as mimetic and environmental selections, and habitat use by mimetic species influence the formation of coexisting rings. We show that when habitat and mimicry are strong sources of selection, the formation of multiple rings takes longer due to conflicting selective pressures. Moreover, habitat generalist species decrease the distinctiveness of different mimicry rings' patterns and a few habitat generalist species can generate a "small-world effect", preventing the formation of multiple mimicry rings. These results may explain why the coexistence of mimicry rings is more common in groups of animals that tend towards habitat specialism, such as butterflies.
Project description:Both ecological theory and empirical evidence suggest that negative frequency dependent feedbacks structure plant communities, but integration of these findings has been limited. Here we develop a generic model of frequency dependent feedback to analyze coexistence and invasibility in random theoretical and real communities for which frequency dependence through plant-soil feedbacks (PSFs) was determined empirically. We investigated community stability and invasibility by means of mechanistic analysis of invasion conditions and numerical simulations. We found that communities fall along a spectrum of coexistence types ranging from strict pair-wise negative feedback to strict intransitive networks. Intermediate community structures characterized by partial intransitivity may feature "keystone competitors" which disproportionately influence community stability. Real communities were characterized by stronger negative feedback and higher robustness to species loss than randomly assembled communities. Partial intransitivity became increasingly likely in more diverse communities. The results presented here theoretically explain why more diverse communities are characterized by stronger negative frequency dependent feedbacks, a pattern previously encountered in observational studies. Natural communities are more likely to be maintained by strict negative plant-soil feedback than expected by chance, but our results also show that community stability often depends on partial intransitivity. These results suggest that plant-soil feedbacks can facilitate coexistence in multi-species communities, but that these feedbacks may also initiate cascading effects on community diversity following from single-species loss.
Project description:This paper shows that for microbial communities, "fences make good neighbors." Communities of soil microorganisms perform critical functions: controlling climate, enhancing crop production, and remediation of environmental contamination. Microbial communities in the oral cavity and the gut are of high biomedical interest. Understanding and harnessing the function of these communities is difficult: artificial microbial communities in the laboratory become unstable because of "winner-takes-all" competition among species. We constructed a community of three different species of wild-type soil bacteria with syntrophic interactions using a microfluidic device to control spatial structure and chemical communication. We found that defined microscale spatial structure is both necessary and sufficient for the stable coexistence of interacting bacterial species in the synthetic community. A mathematical model describes how spatial structure can balance the competition and positive interactions within the community, even when the rates of production and consumption of nutrients by species are mismatched, by exploiting nonlinearities of these processes. These findings provide experimental and modeling evidence for a class of communities that require microscale spatial structure for stability, and these results predict that controlling spatial structure may enable harnessing the function of natural and synthetic multispecies communities in the laboratory.
Project description:Ecologists have long argued that higher functioning in diverse communities arises from the niche differences stabilizing species coexistence and from the fitness differences driving competitive dominance. However, rigorous tests are lacking. We couple field-parameterized models of competition between 10 annual plant species with a biodiversity-functioning experiment under two contrasting environmental conditions, to study how coexistence determinants link to biodiversity effects (selection and complementarity). We find that complementarity effects positively correlate with niche differences and selection effects differences correlate with fitness differences. However, niche differences also contribute to selection effects and fitness differences to complementarity effects. Despite this complexity, communities with an excess of niche differences (where niche differences exceeded those needed for coexistence) produce more biomass and have faster decomposition rates under drought, but do not take up nutrients more rapidly. We provide empirical evidence that the mechanisms determining coexistence correlate with those maximizing ecosystem functioning.
Project description:Functional traits determine the occurrence of species along environmental gradients and their coexistence with other species. Understanding how traits evolved among coexisting species helps to infer community assembly processes. We propose fatty acid composition in consumer tissue as a functional trait related to both food resources and physiological functions of species. We measured phylogenetic signal in fatty acid profiles of 13 field-sampled Collembola (springtail) species and then combined the data with published fatty acid profiles of another 24 species. Collembola fatty acid profiles generally showed phylogenetic signal, with related species resembling each other. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, related to physiological functions, demonstrated phylogenetic signal. In contrast, most food resource biomarker fatty acids and the ratios between bacterial, fungal, and plant biomarker fatty acids exhibited no phylogenetic signal. Presumably, fatty acids related to physiological functions have been constrained during Collembola evolutionary history: Species with close phylogenetic affinity experienced similar environments during divergence, while niche partitioning in food resources among closely related species favored species coexistence. Measuring phylogenetic signal in ecologically relevant traits of coexisting species provides an evolutionary perspective to contemporary assembly processes of ecological communities. Integrating phylogenetic comparative methods with community phylogenetic and trait-based approaches may compensate for the limitations of each method when used alone and improve understanding of processes driving and maintaining assembly patterns.
Project description:Microbes are thought to maintain diversity in plant communities by specializing on particular species, but it is not known whether microbes that specialize within species (i.e., on genotypes) affect diversity or dynamics in plant communities. Here we show that soil microbes can specialize at the within-population level in a wild plant species, and that such specialization could promote species diversity and seed dispersal in plant communities. In a shadehouse experiment in Panama, we found that seedlings of the native tree species, Virola surinamensis (Myristicaceae), had reduced performance in the soil microbial community of their maternal tree compared with in the soil microbial community of a nonmaternal tree from the same population. Performance differences were unrelated to soil nutrients or to colonization by mycorrhizal fungi, suggesting that highly specialized pathogens were the mechanism reducing seedling performance in maternal soils. We then constructed a simulation model to explore the ecological and evolutionary consequences of genotype-specific pathogens in multispecies plant communities. Model results indicated that genotype-specific pathogens promote plant species coexistence-albeit less strongly than species-specific pathogens-and are most effective at maintaining species richness when genetic diversity is relatively low. Simulations also revealed that genotype-specific pathogens select for increased seed dispersal relative to species-specific pathogens, potentially helping to create seed dispersal landscapes that allow pathogens to more effectively promote diversity. Combined, our results reveal that soil microbes can specialize within wild plant populations, affecting seedling performance near conspecific adults and influencing plant community dynamics on ecological and evolutionary time scales.
Project description:Recent work draws attention to community-community encounters ('coalescence') as likely an important factor shaping natural ecosystems. This work builds on MacArthur's classic model of competitive coexistence to investigate such community-level competition in a minimal theoretical setting. It is shown that the ability of a species to survive a coalescence event is best predicted by a community-level 'fitness' of its native community rather than the intrinsic performance of the species itself. The model presented here allows formalizing a macroscopic perspective whereby a community harboring organisms at varying abundances becomes equivalent to a single organism expressing genes at different levels. While most natural communities do not satisfy the strict criteria of multicellularity developed by multi-level selection theory, the effective cohesion described here is a generic consequence of resource partitioning, requires no cooperative interactions, and can be expected to be widespread in microbial ecosystems.
Project description:The interrelationships between our diets and the structure and operations of our gut microbial communities are poorly understood. A model microbial community of ten sequenced human gut bacteria was introduced into gnotobiotic mice and changes in the abundance of each species were measured in response to randomized perturbations of four defined ingredients in the host diet. From the responses, we developed a statistical model that predicted over 50% of the variation in species abundance in response to the diet perturbations and were able to identify which factors in the diet best explained the changes seen for each community member. The community’s transcriptional response was driven by the absolute abundance of each species, as diet ingredient concentrations were not associated with significant changes in the transcription of individual community members. Overall design: This Series contains both RNA-Seq Samples and COPRO-Seq (COmmunity PROfiling by sequencing) Samples.
Project description:The role of interspecific interactions in structuring low-diversity helminth communities is a controversial topic in parasite ecology research. Most parasitic communities of fish are species-poor; thus, interspecific interactions are believed to be unimportant in structuring these communities.We explored the factors that might contribute to the richness and coexistence of helminth parasites of a poeciliid fish in a neotropical river.Repeatability of community structure was examined in parasitic communities among 11 populations of twospot livebearer Pseudoxiphophorus bimaculatus in the La Antigua River basin, Veracruz, Mexico. We examined the species saturation of parasitic communities and explored the patterns of species co-occurrence. We also quantified the associations between parasitic species pairs and analyzed the correlations between helminth species abundance to look for repeated patterns among the study populations.Our results suggest that interspecific competition could occur in species-poor communities, aggregation plays a role in determining local richness, and intraspecific aggregation allows the coexistence of species by reducing the overall intensity of interspecific competition.