Leonardo Oña, Samir Giri, Neele Avermann, Maximilian Kreienbaum, Kai M. Thormann, Christian Kost

Jul 15, 2021
Nature Ecology & Evolution
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Bacteria frequently engage in obligate metabolic mutualisms with other microorganisms. However, it remains generally unclear how the resulting metabolic dependencies affect the ecological niche space accessible to the whole consortium relative to the niche space available to its constituent individuals. Here we address this issue by systematically cultivating metabolically dependent strains of different bacterial species either individually or as pairwise cocultures in a wide range of carbon sources. Our results show that obligate cross-feeding is significantly more likely to expand the metabolic niche space of interacting bacterial populations than to contract it. Moreover, niche expansion occurred predominantly between two specialist taxa and correlated positively with the phylogenetic distance between interaction partners. Together, our results demonstrate that obligate cross-feeding can significantly expand the ecological niche space of interacting bacterial genotypes, thus explaining the widespread occurrence of this type of ecological interaction in natural microbiomes.
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