Community composition drives siderophore dynamics in multispecies bacterial communities

BMC Ecol Evol. 2023 Sep 1;23(1):45. doi: 10.1186/s12862-023-02152-8.


Background: Intraspecific public goods are commonly shared within microbial populations, where the benefits of public goods are largely limited to closely related conspecifics. One example is the production of iron-scavenging siderophores that deliver iron to cells via specific cell envelope receptor and transport systems. Intraspecific social exploitation of siderophore producers is common, since non-producers avoid the costs of production but retain the cell envelope machinery for siderophore uptake. However, little is known about how interactions between species (i.e., interspecific interactions) can shape intraspecific public goods exploitation. Here, we predicted that strong competition for iron between species in diverse communities will increase costs of siderophore cooperation, and hence drive intraspecific exploitation. We examined how increasing microbial community species diversity shapes intraspecific social dynamics by monitoring the growth of siderophore producers and non-producers of the plant-growth promoting bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens, embedded within tree-hole microbial communities ranging from 2 to 15 species.

Results: We find, contrary to our prediction, that siderophore production is favoured at higher levels of community species richness, driven by increased likelihood of encountering key species that reduce the growth of siderophore non-producing (but not producing) strains of P. fluorescens.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that maintaining a diverse soil microbiota could partly contribute to the maintenance of siderophore production in natural communities.

Keywords: Community ecology; Microbial communities; Public goods; Species interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Transport
  • Cell Membrane
  • Iron
  • Pseudomonas fluorescens*
  • Siderophores*


  • Siderophores
  • Iron