Microbial consortia are commonly observed in natural and synthetic systems, and these consortia frequently result in higher biomass production relative to monocultures. The focus here is on the impact of initial spatial localization and substrate diffusivity on the growth of a model microbial consortium consisting of a producer strain that consumes glucose and pro- duces acetate and a scavenger strain that consumes the acetate. The mathematical model is based on an individual cell model where growth is described by Monod kinetics, and sub- strate transport is described by a continuum-based, non-equilibrium reaction-diffusion model where convective transport is negligible (e.g., in a biofilm). The first set of results focus on a single producer cell at the center of the domain and surrounded by an initial popu- lation of scavenger cells. The impact of the initial population density and substrate diffusivity is examined. A transition is observed from the highest initial density resulting in the greatest cell growth to cell growth being independent of initial density. A high initial density minimizes diffusive transport time and is typically expected to result in the highest growth, but this expected behavior is not predicted in environments with lower diffusivity or larger length scales. When the producer cells are placed on the bottom of the domain with the scavenger cells above in a layered biofilm arrangement, a similar critical transition is observed. For the highest diffusivity values examined, a thin, dense initial scavenger layer is optimal for cell growth. However, for smaller diffusivity values, a thicker, less dense initial scavenger layer provides maximal growth. The overall conclusion is that high density clustering of members of a food chain is optimal under most common transport conditions, but under some slow transport conditions, high density clustering may not be optimal for microbial growth.
Venters, M., Carlson, R. P., Gedeon, T., & Heys, J. J. (2017). Effects of spatial localization on microbial consortia growth. PLoS ONE, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0168592