Explore mediated co-varying dynamics in microbial community using integrated local similarity and liquid association analysis

Dongmei Ai, Xiaoxin Li, Hongfei Pan, Jiamin Chen, Jacob A. Cram, Li C. Xia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Discovering the key microbial species and environmental factors of microbial community and characterizing their relationships with other members are critical to ecosystem studies. The microbial co-occurrence patterns across a variety of environmental settings have been extensively characterized. However, previous studies were limited by their restriction toward pairwise relationships, while there was ample evidence of third-party mediated co-occurrence in microbial communities. Methods: We implemented and applied the triplet-based liquid association analysis in combination with the local similarity analysis procedure to microbial ecology data. We developed an intuitive scheme to visualize those complex triplet associations along with pairwise correlations. Using a time series from the marine microbial ecosystem as example, we identified pairs of operational taxonomic units (OTUs) where the strength of their associations appeared to relate to the values of a third "mediator" variable. These "mediator" variables appear to modulate the associations between pairs of bacteria. Results: Using this analysis, we were able to assess the OTUs' ability to regulate its functional partners in the community, typically not manifested in the pairwise correlation patterns. For example, we identified Flavobacteria as a multifaceted player in the marine microbial ecosystem, and its clades were involved in mediating other OTU pairs. By contrast, SAR11 clades were not active mediators of the community, despite being abundant and highly correlated with other OTUs. Our results suggested that Flavobacteria are more likely to respond to situations where particles and unusual sources of dissolved organic material are prevalent, such as after a plankton bloom. On the other hand, SAR11s are oligotrophic chemoheterotrophs with inflexible metabolisms, and their relationships with other organisms may be less governed by environmental or biological factors. Conclusions: By integrating liquid association with local similarity analysis to explore the mediated co-varying dynamics, we presented a novel perspective and a useful toolkit to analyze and interpret time series data from microbial community. Our augmented association network analysis is thus more representative of the true underlying dynamic structure of the microbial community. The analytic software in this study was implemented as new functionalities of the ELSA (Extended local similarity analysis) tool, which is available for free download (http://bitbucket.org/charade/elsa).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number185
JournalBMC Genomics
StatePublished - Apr 4 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Liquid association
  • Local similarity analysis
  • Microbial ecology
  • Three-way association
  • Time series data

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Genetics


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