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Ecological Processes and Human Behavior Provide a Framework for Studying the Skin Microbial Metacommunity

Abstract

Metacommunity theory dictates that a microbial community is supported both by local ecological processes and the dispersal of microbes between neighboring communities. Studies that apply this perspective to human-associated microbial communities are thus far limited to the gut microbiome. Yet, the skin serves as the primary barrier between the body and the external environment, suggesting frequent opportunities for microbial dispersal to the variable microbial communities that are housed across skin sites. This paper applies metacommunity theory to understand the dispersal of microbes to the skin from the physical and social environment, as well as between different skin sites on an individual’s body. This includes highlighting the role of human behavior in driving microbial dispersal, as well as shaping physiological properties of skin that underscore local microbial community dynamics. By leveraging data from research on the skin microbiomes of amphibians and other animals, this paper provides recommendations for future research on the skin microbial metacommunity, including generating testable predictions about the ecological underpinnings of the skin microbiome.

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Acknowledgements

I thank Dr. Katherine Amato and Sahana Kuthyar for their continued encouragement and constructive feedback. I am grateful for the conversations, sketches, and shared passion for ecology that helped convert years of brainstorming into formal writing. I also thank the rest of the Amato Lab for reading and revising earlier versions of this manuscript, as well as two anonymous reviewers whose thorough comments resulted in significant improvements to the paper.

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Manus, M.B. Ecological Processes and Human Behavior Provide a Framework for Studying the Skin Microbial Metacommunity. Microb Ecol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00248-021-01884-8

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Keywords

  • Skin microbiome
  • Metacommunity theory
  • Microbial ecology
  • Human behavior
  • Environment
  • Microbial dispersal