Adapting with Microbial Help: Microbiome Flexibility Facilitates Rapid Responses to Environmental Change

Christian R. Voolstra, Maren Ziegler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


Animals and plants are metaorganisms and associate with microbes that affect their physiology, stress tolerance, and fitness. Here the hypothesis that alteration of the microbiome may constitute a fast-response mechanism to environmental change is examined. This is supported by recent reciprocal transplant experiments with reef corals, which have shown that their microbiome adapts to thermally variable habitats and changes over time when transplanted into different environments. Further, inoculation of corals with beneficial bacteria increases their stress tolerance. But corals differ in their ability to flexibly associate with different bacteria. How scales of microbiome flexibility may reflect different metaorganism adaptation mechanisms is discussed and future directions for research are pinpointed. It is posited that microbiome flexibility is a broad phenomenon that contributes to the ability of organisms to respond to environmental change. Importantly, adapting with microbial help may provide an alternate route to organismal adaptation that facilitates rapid responses.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2000004
StatePublished - Jun 17 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: Figure 3 was produced by Ivan Gromicho, scientific illustrator at KingAbdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).


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