The soil microbiome drives soil ecosystem function, and soil microbial functionality is directly linked to interactions between microbes and the soil environment. However, the context-dependent interactions in the soil microbiome remain largely unknown.
Using latent variable models (LVMs), we disentangle the biotic and abiotic interactions of soil bacteria, fungi and environmental factors using the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau soil ecosystem as a model. Our results show that soil bacteria and fungi not only interact with each other but also shift from competition to facilitation or vice versa depending on environmental variation; that is, the nature of their interactions is context-dependent.
Overall, elevation is the environmental gradient that most promotes facilitative interactions among microbes but is not a major driver of soil microbial community composition, as evidenced by variance partitioning. The larger the tolerance of a microbe to a specific environmental gradient, the lesser likely it is to interact with other soil microbes, which suggests that facilitation does not necessarily lead to niche expansion.