A shared limiting resource leads to competitive exclusion in a cross-feeding system

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27 Scopus citations


Species interactions and coexistence are often dependent upon environmental conditions. When two cross-feeding bacteria exchange essential nutrients, the addition of a cross-fed nutrient to the environment can release one species from its dependence on the other. Previous studies suggest that continued coexistence depends on relative growth rates: coexistence is maintained if the slower-growing species is released from its dependence on the other, but if the faster-growing species is released, the slower-growing species will be lost (a hypothesis that we call ‘feed the faster grower’ or FFG). Using invasion-from-rare experiments with two reciprocally cross-feeding bacteria, genome-scale metabolic modelling and classical ecological models, we explored the potential for coexistence when one cross-feeder became independent. We found that whether nutrient addition shifted an interaction from mutualism to commensalism or parasitism depended on whether the nutrient that limited total growth was required by one or both species. Parasitism resulted when both species required the growth-limiting resource. Importantly, coexistence was only lost when the interaction became parasitism, and the obligate species had a slower growth rate. Under these restricted conditions, the FFG hypothesis applied. Our results contribute to a mechanistic understanding of how resources can be manipulated to alter interactions and coexistence in microbial communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)759-771
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental microbiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank B. Adamowicz, L. Fazzino, J. Anisman, A. Behling, F. Isbell, C. Daws and the UMN theory group for useful discussions. S. Hammarlund was funded by a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and J. Chacón through NIH (GM121498-01A1).


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