Symbiotic interactions change with environmental context. Measuring these context-dependent effects in hosts and symbionts is critical to determining the nature of symbiotic interactions. We investigated context dependence in the symbiosis between social amoeba hosts and their inedible Paraburkholderia bacterial symbionts, where the context is the abundance of host food bacteria. Paraburkholderia have been shown to harm hosts dispersed to food-rich environments, but aid hosts dispersed to food-poor environments by allowing hosts to carry food bacteria. Through measuring symbiont density and host spore production, we show that this food context matters in three other ways. First, it matters for symbionts, who suffer a greater cost from competition with food bacteria in the food-rich context. Second, it matters for host-symbiont conflict, changing how symbiont density negatively impacts host spore production. Third, data-based simulations show that symbiosis often provides a long-term fitness advantage for hosts after rounds of growth and dispersal in variable food contexts, especially when conditions are harsh with little food. These results show how food context can have many consequences for the Dictyostelium-Paraburkholderia symbiosis and that both sides can frequently benefit.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-254
Number of pages10
JournalEvolution Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Bet-hedging
  • Dictyostelium discoideum
  • Paraburkholderia
  • competition
  • context dependence
  • symbiosis


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