Evolutionary dynamics of interlinked public goods traits: an experimental study of siderophore production inPseudomonas aeruginosa

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Public goods cooperation is common in microbes, and there is much interest in understanding how such traits evolve. Research in recent years has identified several important factors that shape the evolutionary dynamics of such systems, yet few studies have investigated scenarios involving interactions between multiple public goods. Here, we offer general predictions about the evolutionary trajectories of two public goods traits having positive, negative or neutral regulatory influence on one another's expression, and we report on a test of some of our predictions in the context of Pseudomonas aeruginosa's production of two interlinked iron-scavenging siderophores. First, we confirmed that both pyoverdine and pyochelin siderophores do operate as public goods under appropriate environmental conditions. We then tracked their production in lines experimentally evolved under different iron-limitation regimes known to favour different siderophore expression profiles. Under strong iron limitation, where pyoverdine represses pyochelin, we saw a decline in pyoverdine and a concomitant increase in pyochelin – consistent with expansion of pyoverdine-defective cheats derepressed for pyochelin. Under moderate iron limitation, pyochelin declined – again consistent with an expected cheat invasion scenario – but there was no concomitant shift in pyoverdine because cross-suppression between the traits is unidirectional only. Alternating exposure to strong and moderate iron limitation caused qualitatively similar though lesser shifts compared to the constant-environment regimes. Our results confirm that the regulatory interconnections between public goods traits can significantly modulate the course of evolution, yet also suggest how we can start to predict the impacts such complexities will have on phenotypic divergence and community stability.

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