Proceedings of the Royal Society B 289(1978) , 20220477 ( 2022)
Given the need to predict the outcomes of (co)evolution in host-associated microbiomes, whether microbial and host fitnesses tend to trade-off, generating conflict, remains a pressing question. Examining the relationships between host and microbe fitness proxies at both the phenotypic and genomic levels can illuminate the mechanisms underlying interspecies cooperation and conflict. We examined naturally occurring genetic variation in 191 strains of the model microbial symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti, paired with each of two host Medicago truncatula genotypes in single- or multi-strain experiments to determine how multiple proxies of microbial and host fitness were related to one another and test key predictions about mutualism evolution at the genomic scale, while also addressing the challenge of measuring microbial fitness. We found little evidence for interspecies fitness conflict; loci tended to have concordant effects on both microbe and host fitnesses, even in environments with multiple co-occurring strains. Our results emphasize the importance of quantifying microbial relative fitness for understanding microbiome evolution and thus harnessing microbiomes to improve host fitness. Additionally, we find that mutualistic coevolution between hosts and microbes acts to maintain, rather than erode, genetic diversity, potentially explaining why variation in mutualism traits persists in nature.