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  1. 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.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 13, 2023
  2. 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 hostmore »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.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023
  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023