Auxotrophic interactions: A stabilizing attribute of aquatic microbial communities?

Winifred M. Johnson, Harriet Alexander, Raven L. Bier, Dan R. Miller, Mario E. Muscarella, Kathleen J. Pitz, Heidi Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Auxotrophy, or an organism's requirement for an exogenous source of an organic molecule, is widespread throughout species and ecosystems. Auxotrophy can result in obligate interactions between organisms, influencing ecosystem structure and community composition. We explore how auxotrophy-induced interactions between aquatic microorganisms affect microbial community structure and stability. While some studies have documented auxotrophy in aquatic microorganisms, these studies are not widespread, and we therefore do not know the full extent of auxotrophic interactions in aquatic environments. Current theoretical and experimental work suggests that auxotrophy links microbial community members through a complex web of metabolic dependencies. We discuss the proposed ways in which auxotrophy may enhance or undermine the stability of aquatic microbial communities, highlighting areas where our limited understanding of these interactions prevents us from being able to predict the ecological implications of auxotrophy. Finally, we examine an example of auxotrophy in harmful algal blooms to place this often theoretical discussion in a field context where auxotrophy may have implications for the development and robustness of algal bloom communities. We seek to draw attention to the relationship between auxotrophy and community stability in an effort to encourage further field and theoretical work that explores the underlying principles of microbial interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberfiaa115
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Aquatic
  • Auxotrophy
  • Microbial community stability
  • Microbial interactions


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