Increasing evidence shows that the influence of microbiota on biogeochemical cycling, plant development, and human health is executed through a complex network of microbe-microbe interactions. However, characterizing how microbes interact and work together within closely packed and highly heterogeneous microbial ecosystems is extremely challenging. Here, we describe a rule-of-thumb framework for visualizing polymicrobial interactions and extracting general principles that underlie microbial communities. We integrate elements of metabolic ecology, behavioral ecology, and game theory to quantify the interactive strategies by which microbes at any taxonomic level compete for resources and cooperate symbiotically with each other to form and stabilize ecological communities. We show how the framework can chart an omnidirectional landscape of microbial cooperation and competition that may drive various natural processes. This framework can be implemented into genome-wide association studies to unravel the genetic mechanisms underlying microbial interaction networks and their evolutionary consequences along spatiotemporal gradients. Importance: Identifying general biological rules that underlie the complexity and heterogeneity of microbial communities has proven to be highly challenging. We present a rule-of-thumb framework for studying and characterizing how microbes interact with each other across different taxa to determine community behavior and dynamics. This framework is computationally simple but conceptually meaningful, and it can provide a starting point to generate novel biological hypotheses about microbial interactions and explore internal workings of microbial community assembly in depth.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Modeling and Simulation
- Molecular Biology
- Computer Science Applications