Microbiome interactions shape host fitness
All animals have associated microbial communities called microbiomes that influence the physiology and fitness of their host. It is unclear to what extent individual microbial species versus interactions between them influence the host. Here, we mapped all possible interactions between individual species of bacteria against Drosophila melanogaster fruit fly fitness traits. Our approach revealed that the same bacterial interactions that shape microbiome abundances also shape host fitness traits. The fitness traits of lifespan and fecundity showed a life history tradeoff, where equal total fitness can be gotten by either high fecundity over a short life or low fecundity over a long life. The microbiome interactions are as important as the individual species in shaping these fundamental aspects of fly physiology.
Gut bacteria can affect key aspects of host fitness, such as development, fecundity, and lifespan, while the host, in turn, shapes the gut microbiome. However, it is unclear to what extent individual species versus community interactions within the microbiome are linked to host fitness. Here, we combinatorially dissect the natural microbiome of Drosophila melanogaster and reveal that interactions between bacteria shape host fitness through life history tradeoffs. Empirically, we made germ-free flies colonized with each possible combination of the five core species of fly gut bacteria. We measured the resulting bacterial community abundances and fly fitness traits, including development, reproduction, and lifespan. The fly gut promoted bacterial diversity, which, in turn, accelerated development, reproduction, and aging: Flies that reproduced more died sooner. From these measurements, we calculated the impact of bacterial interactions on fly fitness by adapting the mathematics of genetic epistasis to the microbiome. Development and fecundity converged with higher diversity, suggesting minimal dependence on interactions. However, host lifespan and microbiome abundances were highly dependent on interactions between bacterial species. Higher-order interactions (involving three, four, and five species) occurred in 13–44% of possible cases depending on the trait, with the same interactions affecting multiple traits, a reflection of the life history tradeoff. Overall, we found these interactions were frequently context-dependent and often had the same magnitude as individual species themselves, indicating that the interactions can be as important as the individual species in gut microbiomes.