Evolution and function of species interaction networks on the example of pioneering species
The association of organisms in symbiotic communities is an evolutionarily highly successful concept to optimally exploit available resources in a habitat. However, we are only at the beginning of comprehending nature and extent of the organismic interaction, its molecular basis, as well as its consequences for the evolution of molecular function. In many cases, this is due to the complexity of the ecological niche a symbiotic community is embedded in, which harbors a plethora of species and provides a highly diverse spectrum of resources. A precise delineation of the symbiotic community often hard, preventing a mechanistic understanding of the symbiosis and of the resulting synergies. In this project, we overcome these obstacles by concentrating on pioneering communities, i.e. meta-organisms that are among the first to conquer a new, and often extreme, habitat, such as bare rock or lava fields. On the basis of the newly determined genome sequences of the individual symbionts, we will annotate and analyze the encoded protein interaction networks, and their integration across the symbiotic partners. A comparison to the results obtained from characterizing closely related species without a pioneering status is bound to shed light on the evolutionary trajectory that adapted a species to an extreme environment.