Coexistence and cooperation in structured habitats

BMC Ecol. 2020 Mar 2;20(1):14. doi: 10.1186/s12898-020-00281-y.


Background: Natural habitats are typically structured, imposing constraints on inhabiting populations and their interactions. Which conditions are important for coexistence of diverse communities, and how cooperative interaction stabilizes in such populations, have been important ecological and evolutionary questions.

Results: We investigate a minimal ecological framework of microbial population dynamics that exhibits crucial features to show coexistence: Populations repeatedly undergo cycles of separation into compartmentalized habitats and mixing with new resources. The characteristic time-scale is longer than that typical of individual growth. Using analytic approximations, averaging techniques and phase-plane methods of dynamical systems, we provide a framework for analyzing various types of microbial interactions. Population composition and population size are both dynamic variables of the model; they are found to be decoupled both in terms of time-scale and parameter dependence. We present specific results for two examples of cooperative interaction by public goods: collective antibiotics resistance, and enhanced iron-availability by pyoverdine. We find stable coexistence to be a likely outcome.

Conclusions: The two simple features of a long mixing time-scale and spatial compartmentalization are enough to enable coexisting strains. In particular, costly social traits are often stabilized in such an environment-and thus cooperation established.

Keywords: Microbial interactions; Multilevel selection; Population dynamics; Public goods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution
  • Ecology*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Population Dynamics