Linking species diversity to microbial ecosystem functionality
There is a tremendous variation among natural ecosystems in the diversity of species and their interactions, which are thought to define ecosystem stability and functionality. Ecological theory predicts that the stability of an ecosystem relies on balanced interspecies interactions and how these species interact with the environment. Here, we propose a popular Zambian fermented product, Mabisi, as a model system to study what mechanisms drive the community stability. In contrast to most other natural ecosystems, Mabisi harbours a relatively simple microbial community of six to eight most abundant species of bacteria and yeasts. Such a low taxonomic diversity allows us to experimentally test whether species composition, type of interspecies interactions, environmental conditions, and degree of long-term co-existence define stability of the community. We intend to link the functionality of individual species to ecosystem stability and build a model of the microbial community interactions. Our work will also allow us to design stable starter cultures for safe and sustainable production of Mabisi and other traditional fermented milk products.