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Microbial ecosystems are dominated by specialist taxa.

Authors
Type
Published Article
Journal
Ecology Letters
1461-0248
Publisher
Wiley Blackwell (Blackwell Publishing)
Publication Date
Volume
18
Issue
9
Pages
974–982
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1111/ele.12478
PMID: 26251267
Source
Medline
Keywords
  • Abundance
  • Beta-Diversity
  • Communities
  • Microbial Ecology
  • Microbiota
  • Specialist Taxa
  • Specificity

Abstract

Abundance and specificity are two key characteristics of species distribution and biodiversity. Theories of species assembly aim to reproduce the empirical joint patterns of specificity and abundance, with the goal to explain patterns of biodiversity across habitats. The specialist-generalist paradigm predicts that specialists should have a local advantage over generalists and thus be more abundant. We developed a specificity index to analyse abundance-specificity relationships in microbial ecosystems. By analysing microbiota spanning 23 habitats from three very different data sets covering a wide range of sequencing depths and environmental conditions, we find that habitats are consistently dominated by specialist taxa, resulting in a strong, positive correlation between abundance and specificity. This finding is consistent over several levels of taxonomic aggregation and robust to errors in abundance measures. The relationship explains why shallow sequencing captures similar β-diversity as deep sequencing, and can be sufficient to capture the habitat-specific functions of microbial communities.

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