Microbial communities drive global biogeochemical cycles and shape the health of plants and animals—including humans. Their structure and function are determined by ecological and environmental interactions that govern the assembly, stability and evolution of microbial communities. A widely held view is that antagonistic interactions such as competition predominate in microbial communities and are ecologically more important than synergistic interactions—for example, mutualism or commensalism. Over the past decade, however, a more nuanced picture has emerged, wherein bacteria, archaea and fungi exist within interactive networks in which they exchange essential and non-essential metabolites. These metabolic interactions profoundly impact not only the physiology, ecology and evolution of the strains involved, but are also central to the functioning of many, if not all, microbiomes. Therefore, we advocate for a balanced view of microbiome ecology that encompasses both synergistic and antagonistic interactions as key forces driving the structure and dynamics within microbial communities.
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