Mutualism and dormancy

Obligate mutualistic interactions, for instance metabolically dependent pairs, are widespread in nature. Although they play fundamental roles in many ecosystems, they might be fragile to changing environmental conditions. One reason is the costs of beneficial components provided to the pair. If the costs outweigh the benefits, the evolution of reciprocal partnership might be constrained, or it might lead to cheating behavior.

We believe dormancy, where a part of the population is inactive for some time, may contribute to the stability of these dependencies. One advantage might be the persistence of dormant individuals against stochastic extinctions. Dormant individuals can also slow down the selection of cheaters under certain environmental conditions such as resource fluctuations.

We will investigate how cooperation and dormancy contribute to the stability of mutualistic interactions under environmental fluctuations such as extreme nutrient limitation, using Bacillus strains and individual-based models.