Microbial rescue effects: how microbiomes can save hosts from extinction

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Description: 1. Rescue effects arise when ecological and evolutionary processes restore intrinsic positive growth rates in populations that are at risk of going extinct. Rescue effects have primarily focused on the roles of immigration, gene flow, and adaptation, despite the critical importance of species interactions for understanding how populations respond to environmental change. 2. In particular, the fitness of plant and animal populations is strongly influenced by symbiotic associations with the bacteria, archaea, microeukaryotes, and viruses that collectively make up a host’s microbiome. While some are pathogenic, many microorganisms confer nutritional, immunological, and developmental benefits that can protect hosts against the effects of rapid environmental change. 3. Microbial rescue effects occur when beneficial microbiota reduce the risk of host extinction. This form of rescue arises through ecological and evolutionary processes that shape the composition and function of a host’s microbiome. Such processes operate not only within a host, but also involve the transmission of microbiota among hosts, and the recruitment of environmental microorganisms. 4. Microbial rescue is important to consider when developing conservation plans. The growth rates of threatened or endangered plant and animal populations may be stabilized through interventions such as probiotics, captive breeding, assisted migration, and microbiome engineering. Thus, in addition to providing a new concept to explore in theoretical and empirical host-microbiome research, microbial rescue represents a framework that can be integrated into existing and future efforts aimed at adaptively managing at-risk species.

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