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In their newly published paper, Senay Yitbarek and coauthors examine the ecological complexity of microbial communities. Higher-order microbial interactions, involving more than just pairwise interactions, are prevalent in nature but are notoriously difficult to quantify as microbial communities can contain up to thousands of species. Furthermore, outcomes of microbial species interactions depend strongly on the overall community context. Yitbarek and coauthors applied an epistasis framework to quantify the effects of higher-order microbial interactions on host phenotypes (e.g., host infection risk). They constructed an in-silico dataset of insects hosts with gut-associated microbial communities at risk of infection from an intestinal parasite across nutrient environmental contexts. They find that higher-order interactions can stabilize community structure thereby reducing host susceptibility to parasite invasion. Their method to quantify higher-order interactions can be easily integrated into the analysis of experimental datasets.

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