Abstract: Habitat specialization underpins biological processes from species distributions to speciation. However, organisms are often described as specialists or generalists based on a single niche axis, despite facing complex, multidimensional environments. Here, we analysed 236 environmental soil microbiomes across the United States and demonstrate that 90% of >1,200 prokaryotes followed one of two trajectories: specialization on all niche axes (multidimensional specialization) or generalization on all axes (multidimensional generalization). We then documented that this pervasive multidimensional specialization/generalization had many ecological and evolutionary consequences. First, multidimensional specialization and generalization are highly conserved with very few transitions between these two trajectories. Second, multidimensional generalists dominated communities because they were 73 times more abundant than specialists. Lastly, multidimensional specialists played important roles in community structure with ~220% more connections in microbiome networks. These results indicate that multidimensional generalization and specialization are evolutionarily stable with multidimensional generalists supporting larger populations and multidimensional specialists playing important roles within communities, probably stemming from their overrepresentation among pollutant detoxifiers and nutrient cyclers. Taken together, we demonstrate that the vast majority of soil prokaryotes are restricted to one of two multidimensional niche trajectories, multidimensional specialization or multidimensional generalization, which then has far-reaching consequences for evolutionary transitions, microbial dominance and community roles.
Hernandez, D.J., Kiesewetter, K.N., Almeida, B.K. et al. Multidimensional specialization and generalization are pervasive in soil prokaryotes. Nat Ecol Evol (2023).
This dataset includes 3571 records.