Microbes exist in complex, multi-species communities with diverse interactions that play an essential role in both human health as well as the health of the planet. Over the last decade tremendous progress has been made in characterizing these communities, but the lack of experimentally tractable model systems has made it difficult to discern the rules governing microbial community assembly and function. In this talk I will describe our recent experimental efforts to develop a bottom-up approach to understanding the dynamics of these communities. We find that simple assembly rules incorporating just the pairwise competitive outcomes are surprisingly successful in predicting the outcome of multi-species competition, indicating that higher-order interactions among species can often be neglected. Ongoing work to develop a predictive understanding of how the pairwise outcomes shift with environmental change suggests that a bottom-up approach provides powerful insight into the emergent behavior within complex multi-species communities.
Watch a video of the talk here.