Review

The Application of Ecological Theory Toward an Understanding of the Human Microbiome

Science  08 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6086, pp. 1255-1262
DOI: 10.1126/science.1224203

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Abstract

The human-microbial ecosystem plays a variety of important roles in human health and disease. Each person can be viewed as an island-like “patch” of habitat occupied by microbial assemblages formed by the fundamental processes of community ecology: dispersal, local diversification, environmental selection, and ecological drift. Community assembly theory, and metacommunity theory in particular, provides a framework for understanding the ecological dynamics of the human microbiome, such as compositional variability within and between hosts. We explore three core scenarios of human microbiome assembly: development in infants, representing assembly in previously unoccupied habitats; recovery from antibiotics, representing assembly after disturbance; and invasion by pathogens, representing assembly in the context of invasive species. Judicious application of ecological theory may lead to improved strategies for restoring and maintaining the microbiota and the crucial health-associated ecosystem services that it provides.

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