Comparative Analysis of Core Microbiome Assignments: Implications for Ecological Synthesis

Gordon F. Custer, Maya Gans, Linda T.A. van Diepen, Francisco Dini-Andreote, C. Alex Buerkle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The concept of a core microbiome has been broadly used to refer to the consistent presence of a set of taxa across multiple samples within a given habitat. The assignment of taxa to core microbiomes can be performed by several methods based on the abundance and occupancy (i.e., detection across samples) of individual taxa. These approaches have led to methodological inconsistencies, with direct implications for ecological interpretation. Here, we reviewed a set of methods most commonly used to infer core microbiomes in divergent systems. We applied these methods using large data sets and analyzed simulations to determine their accuracy in core microbiome assignments. Our results show that core taxa assignments vary significantly across methods and data set types, with occupancy-based methods most accurately defining true core membership. We also found the ability of these methods to accurately capture core assignments to be contingent on the distribution of taxon abundance and occupancy in the data set. Finally, we provide specific recommendations for further studies using core taxa assignments and discuss the need for unifying methodical approaches toward data processing to advance ecological synthesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Computer Science Applications


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