The holobiont concept defines a given organism and its associated symbionts as a potential level of selection over evolutionary time. In clonal plants, recent experiments demonstrated vertical transmission of part of the microbiota from one ramet (i.e., potentially autonomous individual) to another within the clonal network (i.e., connections by modified stems present in 35% of all plants). Because of this heritability, and potentially reciprocal exchange of microbes between generations of ramets, we propose to extend the existing holobiont framework to the concept of meta-holobiont. A meta-holobiont is a network of holobionts that can exchange biomolecules and microbiota across generations, thus impacting the fitness of both biological scales: holobionts and meta-holobionts. Specifically, meta-holobiont dynamics can result in sharing, specialization, and division of labor across plant clonal generations. This paper, which coins the meta-holobiont concept, is expected to stimulate discussion and to be applied beyond the context of networked clonal plants (e.g., to social insects).
- Plant-microbe interactions