Two improved approaches to the study of competition in microbial communities

Leonardo Pacciani, Flavio Seno, Amos Maritan, Samir Suweis

Published in Padua Digital University Archive, 2020


Microbial communities are ubiquitous and play crucial roles in many natural processes (e.g., biogeochemical cycles and industrial processes). Despite their importance, however, there are still many aspects of microbial community dynamics that we do not fully understand. In this Thesis we provide two improvements to the approach used to study competition in microbial communities that can help us in this direction. The theoretical framework on which we build is MacArthur’s consumer-resource model, commonly used to describe mathematically competition between microbes.

The first improvement consists in introducing an optimization principle in the dynamics of such systems, so that we can include in mathematical models the well known fact that microbes can switch between different energy sources depending on environmental conditions. We require that each species does so in order to maximize its own relative fitness, and we explore the consequences of this choice on the biodiversity of competitive communities, comparing also the model with experimental data.

Then, we reconsider the consumer-resource framework in light of experimental evidence showing that the allocation of cellular internal resources affects microbial growth. This new framework describes community dynamics at an intermediate level of complexity, allowing us to explore the relationship between population dynamics and microbial metabolism, which has attracted the attention of the scientific community in recent years. We compare the predictions of our new model with experimental data in a simple case, and then we study its predictions analytically and numerically to understand how biodiversity in competitive communities can be maintained.