Research ArticleECOLOGY

Transient invaders can induce shifts between alternative stable states of microbial communities

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Science Advances  19 Feb 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 8, eaay8676
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay8676


Microbial dispersal often leads to the arrival of outsider organisms into ecosystems. When their arrival gives rise to successful invasions, outsider species establish within the resident community, which can markedly alter the ecosystem. Seemingly less influential, the potential impact of unsuccessful invaders that interact only transiently with the community has remained largely ignored. Here, we experimentally demonstrate that these transient invasions can induce a lasting transition to an alternative stable state, even when the invader species itself does not survive the transition. First, we develop a mechanistic understanding of how environmental changes caused by these transient invaders can drive a community shift in a simple, bistable model system. Beyond this, we show that transient invaders can also induce switches between stable states in more complex communities isolated from natural soil samples. Our results demonstrate that short-term interactions with an invader species can induce lasting shifts in community composition and function.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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