Coexistence of Competing Microbial Strains under Twofold Environmental Variability and Demographic Fluctuations

Authors: Matthew Asker, Lluís Hernández-Navarro, Alastair M. Rucklidge, Mauro Mobilia

Abstract: Microbial populations generally evolve in volatile environments, under conditions fluctuating between harsh and mild, e.g. as the result of sudden changes in toxin concentration or nutrient abundance. Environmental variability thus shapes the population long-time dynamics, notably by influencing the ability of different strains of microorganisms to coexist. Inspired by the evolution of antimicrobial resistance, we study the dynamics of a community consisting of two competing strains subject to twofold environmental variability. The level of toxin varies in time, favouring the growth of one strain under low levels and the other strain when the toxin level is high. We also model time-changing resource abundance by a randomly switching carrying capacity that drives the fluctuating size of the community. While one strain dominates in a static environment, we show that species coexistence is possible in the presence of environmental variability. By computational and analytical means, we determine the environmental conditions under which long-lived coexistence is possible and when it is almost certain. Notably, we study the circumstances under which environmental and demographic fluctuations promote, or hinder, the strains coexistence. We also determine how the make-up of the coexistence phase and the average abundance of each strain depend on the environmental variability.

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