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  1. ABSTRACT Despite decades of research, we are only just beginning to understand the forces maintaining variation in the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis between rhizobial bacteria and leguminous plants. In their recent work, Alexandra Weisberg and colleagues use genomics to document the breadth of mobile element diversity that carries the symbiosis genes of Bradyrhizobium in natural populations. Studying rhizobia from the perspective of their mobile genetic elements, which have their own transmission modes and fitness interests, reveals novel mechanisms for the generation and maintenance of diversity in natural populations of these ecologically and economically important mutualisms. 
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  2. Wilson, Daniel ; Parkhill, Julian (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT A goal of modern biology is to develop the genotype-phenotype (G→P) map, a predictive understanding of how genomic information generates trait variation that forms the basis of both natural and managed communities. As microbiome research advances, however, it has become clear that many of these traits are symbiotic extended phenotypes , being governed by genetic variation encoded not only by the host’s own genome, but also by the genomes of myriad cryptic symbionts. Building a reliable G→P map therefore requires accounting for the multitude of interacting genes and even genomes involved in symbiosis. Here, we use naturally occurring genetic variation in 191 strains of the model microbial symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti paired with two genotypes of the host Medicago truncatula in four genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to determine the genomic architecture of a key symbiotic extended phenotype— partner quality , or the fitness benefit conferred to a host by a particular symbiont genotype, within and across environmental contexts and host genotypes. We define three novel categories of loci in rhizobium genomes that must be accounted for if we want to build a reliable G→P map of partner quality; namely, (i) loci whose identities depend on the environment, (ii) those that depend on the host genotype with which rhizobia interact, and (iii) universal loci that are likely important in all or most environments. IMPORTANCE Given the rapid rise of research on how microbiomes can be harnessed to improve host health, understanding the contribution of microbial genetic variation to host phenotypic variation is pressing, and will better enable us to predict the evolution of (and select more precisely for) symbiotic extended phenotypes that impact host health. We uncover extensive context-dependency in both the identity and functions of symbiont loci that control host growth, which makes predicting the genes and pathways important for determining symbiotic outcomes under different conditions more challenging. Despite this context-dependency, we also resolve a core set of universal loci that are likely important in all or most environments, and thus, serve as excellent targets both for genetic engineering and future coevolutionary studies of symbiosis. 
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  3. Given the need to predict the outcomes of (co)evolution in host-associated microbiomes, whether microbial and host fitnesses tend to trade-off, generating conflict, remains a pressing question. Examining the relationships between host and microbe fitness proxies at both the phenotypic and genomic levels can illuminate the mechanisms underlying interspecies cooperation and conflict. We examined naturally occurring genetic variation in 191 strains of the model microbial symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti , paired with each of two host Medicago truncatula genotypes in single- or multi-strain experiments to determine how multiple proxies of microbial and host fitness were related to one another and test key predictions about mutualism evolution at the genomic scale, while also addressing the challenge of measuring microbial fitness. We found little evidence for interspecies fitness conflict; loci tended to have concordant effects on both microbe and host fitnesses, even in environments with multiple co-occurring strains. Our results emphasize the importance of quantifying microbial relative fitness for understanding microbiome evolution and thus harnessing microbiomes to improve host fitness. Additionally, we find that mutualistic coevolution between hosts and microbes acts to maintain, rather than erode, genetic diversity, potentially explaining why variation in mutualism traits persists in nature. 
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  4. Beaulieu, Jeremy (Ed.)
    Abstract Due to their non-motile nature, plants rely heavily on mutualistic interactions to obtain resources and carry out services. One key mutualism is the plant–microbial mutualism in which a plant trades away carbon to a microbial partner for nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. Plants show much variation in the use of this partnership from the individual level to entire lineages depending upon ecological, evolutionary and environmental context. We sought to determine how this context dependency could result in the promotion, exclusion or coexistence of the microbial mutualism by asking if and when the partnership provided a competitive advantage to the plant. To that end, we created a 2 × 2 evolutionary game in which plants could either be a mutualist and pair with a microbe or be a non-mutualist and forgo the partnership. Our model includes both frequency dependence and density dependence, which gives us the eco-evolutionary dynamics of mutualism evolution. As in all models, mutualism only evolved if it could offer a competitive advantage and its net benefit was positive. However, surprisingly the model reveals the possibility of coexistence between mutualist and non-mutualist genotypes due to competition between mutualists over the microbially obtained nutrient. Specifically, frequency dependence of host strategies can make the microbial symbiont less beneficial if the microbially derived resources are shared, a phenomenon that increasingly reduces the frequency of mutualism as the density of competitors increases. In essence, ecological competition can act as a hindrance to mutualism evolution. We go on to discuss basic experiments that can be done to test and falsify our hypotheses. 
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  5. Abstract

    Wood decomposition in water is a key ecosystem process driven by diverse microbial taxa that likely differ in their affinities for freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats. How these decomposer communities assemble in situ or potentially colonize from other habitats remains poorly understood. At three watersheds on Coiba Island, Panama, we placed replicate sections of branch wood of a single tree species on land, and in freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats that constitute a downstream salinity gradient. We sequenced archaea, bacteria and fungi from wood samples collected after 3, 9 and 15 months to examine microbial community composition, and to examine habitat specificity and abundance patterns. We found that these microbial communities were broadly structured by similar factors, with a strong effect of salinity, but little effect of watershed identity on compositional variation. Moreover, common aquatic taxa were also present in wood incubated on land. Our results suggest that either taxa dispersed to both terrestrial and aquatic habitats, or microbes with broad habitat ranges were initially present in the wood as endophytes. Nonetheless, these habitat generalists varied greatly in abundance across habitats suggesting an important role for habitat filtering in maintaining distinct aquatic communities in freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats.

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  6. Abstract

    Symbiosis often occurs between partners with distinct life history characteristics and dispersal mechanisms. Many bacterial symbionts have genomes comprising multiple replicons with distinct rates of evolution and horizontal transmission. Such differences might drive differences in population structure between hosts and symbionts and among the elements of the divided genomes of bacterial symbionts. These differences might, in turn, shape the evolution of symbiotic interactions and bacterial evolution. Here we use whole genome resequencing of a hierarchically structured sample of 191 strains ofSinorhizobium meliloticollected from 21 locations in southern Europe to characterize population structures of this bacterial symbiont, which forms a root nodule symbiosis with the host plantMedicago truncatula.S. melilotigenomes showed high local (within‐site) variation and little isolation by distance. This was particularly true for the two symbiosis elements, pSymA and pSymB, which have population structures that are similar to each other, but distinct from both the bacterial chromosome and the host plant. Given limited recombination on the chromosome, compared to the symbiosis elements, distinct population structures may result from differences in effective gene flow. Alternatively, positive or purifying selection, with little recombination, may explain distinct geographical patterns at the chromosome. Discordant population structure between hosts and symbionts indicates that geographically and genetically distinct host populations in different parts of the range might interact with genetically similar symbionts, potentially minimizing local specialization.

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