Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Structural equation modeling of a winnowed soil microbiome identifies how invasive plants re-structure microbial networks.

Abstract

The development of microbial networks is central to ecosystem functioning and is the hallmark of complex natural systems. Characterizing network development over time and across environmental gradients is hindered by the millions of potential interactions among community members, limiting interpretations of network evolution. We developed a feature selection approach using data winnowing that identifies the most ecologically influential microorganisms within a network undergoing change. Using a combination of graph theory, leave-one-out analysis, and statistical inference, complex microbial communities are winnowed to identify the core organisms responding to external gradients or functionality, and then network development is evaluated against these externalities. In a plant invasion case study, the winnowed microbial network became more influential as the plant invasion progressed as a result of direct plant-microbe links rather than the expected indirect plant-soil-microbe links. This represents the first use of structural equation modeling to predict microbial network evolution, which requires identification of keystone taxa and quantification of the ecological processes underpinning community structure and function patterns.