Tractable microbial communities are needed to bridge the gap between observations of patterns of microbial diversity and mechanisms that can explain these patterns. We developed cheese rinds as model microbial communities by characterizing in situ patterns of diversity and by developing an in vitro system for community reconstruction. Sequencing of 137 different rind communities across 10 countries revealed 24 widely distributed and culturable genera of bacteria and fungi as dominant community members. Reproducible community types formed independent of geographic location of production. Intensive temporal sampling demonstrated that assembly of these communities is highly reproducible. Patterns of community composition and succession observed in situ can be recapitulated in a simple in vitro system. Widespread positive and negative interactions were identified between bacterial and fungal community members. Cheese rind microbial communities represent an experimentally tractable system for defining mechanisms that influence microbial community assembly and function.
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