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Brendan Bohannan: Host-Microbiomes as Metacommunities – Ecological and Evolutionary Implications

Prof. Brendan Bohannan, University of Oregon, talked about ‘Host-Microbiomes as Metacommunities: Ecological and Evolutionary Implications’ during his visit to Kiel University.

Humans and other animals are chimeric creatures, covered inside and out with microorganisms. These microbes are collectively known as an individual’s ‘microbiome’, and variation in microbiome composition across individuals has been linked to variation in host health and well-being. There is growing evidence that dispersal among microbiomes is an important driver of this variation. To better understand how dispersal interacts with other factors to determine the composition of host-microbiomes, metacommunity theory has recently been applied to host-microbiomes. Metacommunity theory posits that the dynamics within any local group of interacting species (a community) are governed both by processes that occur within the community and by the process of dispersal which links communities together. The relative strengths of dispersal and within-community dynamics create different patterns of diversity and species composition across space and time.

In his talk, Bohannan presented evidence for the hypothesis that host-microbiomes act as metacommunities. He discussed examples of the ecological implications of this hypothesis and focused on the role of the environment external to hosts (the “matrix” in metacommunity theory) as a mediator of dispersal, and how it can shape the ecological traits of host-associated microorganisms. He ended with a discussion of the evolutionary implications of host-microbiomes as metacommunities, including recent theory regarding the conditions necessary for coevolution and how dispersal among host-microbiomes may allow “collective inheritance” of microbiome traits.

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