Natural landscapes are both fragmented and heterogeneous, affecting the distribution of organisms, and their interactions. While predation in homogeneous environments increases the probability of population extinction, fragmentation/heterogeneity promotes coexistence and enhances community stability as shown by experimentation with animals and microorganisms, and supported by theory. Patch connectivity can modulate such effects but how microbial predatory interactions are affected by water-driven connectivity is unknown. In soil, patch habitability by microorganisms, and their connectivity depend upon the water saturation degree (SD). Here, using the obligate bacterial predator Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus, and a Burkholderia prey, we show that soil spatial heterogeneity profoundly affects predatory dynamics, enhancing long-term co-existence of predator and prey in a SD-threshold dependent-manner. However, as patches and connectors cannot be distinguished in these soil matrices, metapopulations cannot be invoked to explain the dynamics of increased persistence. Using a set of experiments combined with statistical and physical models we demonstrate and quantify how under full connectivity, predation is independent of water content but depends on soil microstructure characteristics. In contrast, the SD below which predation is largely impaired corresponds to a threshold below which the water network collapses and water connectivity breaks down, preventing the bacteria to move within the soil matrix.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics