Niche is a fundamental concept in ecology. It integrates the sum of biotic and abiotic environmental requirements that determines a taxon's distribution. Microbiologists currently lack quantitative approaches to address niche-related hypotheses. We tested four approaches for the quantification of niche breadth and overlap of taxa in amplicon sequencing datasets, with the goal of determining generalists, specialists and environmental-dependent distributions of community members. We applied these indices to in silico training datasets first, and then to real human gut and desert biological soil crust (biocrust) case studies, assessing the agreement of the indices with previous findings. Implementation of each approach successfully identified a priori conditions within in silico training data, and we found that by including a limit of quantification based on species rank, one could identify taxa falsely classified as specialists because of their low, sparse counts. Analysis of the human gut study offered quantitative support for Bacilli, Gammaproteobacteria and Fusobacteria specialists enriched after bariatric surgery. We could quantitatively characterise differential niche distributions of cyanobacterial taxa with respect to precipitation gradients in biocrusts. We conclude that these approaches, made publicly available as an R package (MicroNiche), represent useful tools to assess microbial environment-taxon and taxon-taxon relationships in a quantitative manner.
- Community ecology
- Niche theory
- Proportional similarity index
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology