Strain background, species frequency and environmental conditions are important in determining population dynamics and species co-existence between Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus
Bacterial communities in the environment and in infections are typically diverse, yet we know little about the factors that determine interspecies interactions. Here, we apply concepts from ecological theory to understand how biotic and abiotic factors affect interaction patterns between the two opportunistic human pathogens Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus , which often co-occur in polymicrobial infections. Specifically, we conducted a series of short- and long-term competition experiments between P. aeruginosa PAO1 (as our reference strain) and three different S. aureus strains (Cowan I, 6850, JE2) at three different starting frequencies and under three different environmental (culturing) conditions. We found that the competitive ability of P. aeruginosa strongly depended on the strain background of S. aureus , whereby P. aeruginosa dominated against Cowan I and 6850, but not against JE2. In the latter case, both species could end up as winners depending on conditions. Specifically, we observed strong frequency-dependent fitness patterns, including positive frequency dependence, where P. aeruginosa could dominate JE2 only when common, but not when rare. Finally, changes in environmental (culturing) conditions fundamentally altered the competitive balance between the two species, in a way that P. aeruginosa dominance increased when moving from shaken to static environments. Altogether, our results highlight that ecological details can have profound effects on the competitive dynamics between co-infecting pathogens, and determine whether two species can co-exist or invade each others populations from rare. Moreover, our findings might parallel certain dynamics observed in chronic polymicrobial infections. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.
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