Microbes commonly deploy a risky strategy to acquire nutrients from their environment, involving the production of costly public goods that can be exploited by neighbouring individuals. Why engage in such a strategy when an exploitation-free alternative is readily available whereby public goods are kept private? We address this by examining metabolism of Saccharomyces cerevisiae in its native form and by creating a new three-strain synthetic community deploying different strategies of sucrose metabolism. Public-metabolizers digest resources externally, private-metabolizers internalize resources before digestion, and cheats avoid the metabolic costs of digestion but exploit external products generated by competitors. A combination of mathematical modelling and ecological experiments reveal that private-metabolizers invade and take over an otherwise stable community of public-metabolizers and cheats. However, owing to the reduced growth rate of private-metabolizers and population bottlenecks that are frequently associated with microbial communities, privatizing public goods can become unsustainable, leading to population decline.
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The research data supporting this publication can be found at https://doi.org/10.24378/exe.1383.
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We thank R. Beardmore, A. Jepson and P. Holder for comments and helpful discussions. R.J.L. and I.G. are funded by European Research Council Consolidator Grant No. 647292 MathModExp awarded to I.G., and B.J.P. was funded by an EPSRC Doctoral training studentship.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Lindsay, R.J., Pawlowska, B.J. & Gudelj, I. Privatization of public goods can cause population decline. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1206–1216 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0944-9
Nature Physics (2020)