Mammalian gut microbial communities are frequently found to be host-specific—microbial community compositions are more similar within than between host species—and some individual microbial taxa consistently associate with a single or small set of host species. The ecoevolutionary dynamics that result in this pattern of phylosymbiosis or host specificity have been proposed, but robust tests of the mechanisms driving these relationships are lacking. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Mazel et al. (2023) combine large amplicon sequencing data sets with bacterial phenotypic traits to test whether microbial dispersal patterns contribute to the host specificity of the gut microbiome. They find that both transmission mode and oxygen tolerance are predictive of how specialized a microbe is. Horizontally transmitted, oxygen-tolerant microbes are more likely to be generalists, and vertically transmitted anaerobes are more likely to be limited to a few host species. This creative use of publicly available data provides a roadmap for testing hypotheses about the mechanisms underlying phylosymbiosis.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17193
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • Coevolution
  • host specificity
  • microbial dispersal
  • microbiome


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