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A Landscape of Opportunities for Microbial Ecology Research

Abstract : Microbes encompass tremendous biodiversity, provide support to all living forms, including humans, and play an important role in many ecosystem services. The rules that govern microorganism community assembly are increasingly revealed due to key advances in molecular and analytical methods but their understanding remain a key challenge in microbial ecology. The existence of biogeographic patterns within microbial communities has been established and explained in relation to landscape-scale processes, including selection, drift, dispersal and mutation. The effect of habitat patchiness on microorganisms' assembly rules remains though incompletely understood. Here, we review how landscape ecology principles can be adapted to explore new perspectives on the mechanisms that determine microbial community structure. To provide a general overview, we characterize microbial landscapes, the spatial and temporal scales of the mechanisms that drive microbial assembly and the feedback between microorganisms and landscape structure. We provide evidence for the effects of landscape heterogeneity, landscape fragmentation and landscape dynamics on microbial community structure, and show that predictions made for macro-organisms at least partly also apply to microorganisms. We explain why emerging metacommunity approaches in microbial ecology should include explicit characterization of landscape structure in their development and interpretation. We also explain how biotic interactions, such as competition, prey-predator or mutualist relations may influence the microbial landscape and may be involved in the above-mentioned feedback process. However, we argue that the application of landscape ecology to the microbial world cannot simply involve transposing existing theoretical frameworks. This is due to the particularity of these organisms, in terms of size, generation time, and for some of them, tight interaction with hosts. These characteristics imply dealing with unusual and dependent space and time scales of effect. Evolutionary processes have also a strong importance in microorganisms' response to their landscapes. Lastly, microorganisms' activity and distribution induce feedback effects on the landscape that have to be taken into account. The transposition of the landscape ecology framework to microorganisms provides many challenging research directions for microbial ecology.
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Submitted on : Monday, January 4, 2021 - 5:21:19 PM
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Cendrine Mony, Philippe Vandenkoornhuyse, Brendan J. M. Bohannan, Kabir Peay, Mathew A. Leibold. A Landscape of Opportunities for Microbial Ecology Research. Frontiers in Microbiology, Frontiers Media, 2020, 11, ⟨10.3389/fmicb.2020.561427⟩. ⟨hal-03095745⟩

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