Here we examine the exometabolite composition of desert biological soil crusts (biocrusts) and the substrate preferences of seven biocrust isolates. The biocrust’s main primary producer releases a diverse array of metabolites, and isolates of physically associated taxa use unique subsets of the complex metabolite pool. Individual isolates use only 13−26% of available metabolites, with only 2 out of 470 used by all and 40% not used by any. An extension of this approach to a mesophilic soil environment also reveals high levels of microbial substrate specialization. These results suggest that exometabolite niche partitioning may be an important factor in the maintenance of microbial diversity.
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