Biological market theory has been used successfully to explain cooperative behavior in many animal species. Microbes also engage in cooperative behaviors, both with hosts and other microbes, that can be described in economic terms. However, a market approach is not traditionally used to analyze these interactions. Here, we extend the biological market framework to ask whether this theory is of use to evolutionary biologists studying microbes. We consider six economic strategies used by microbes to optimize their success in markets. We argue that an economic market framework is a useful tool to generate specific and interesting predictions about microbial interactions, including the evolution of partner discrimination, hoarding strategies, specialized versus diversified mutualistic services, and the role of spatial structures, such as flocks and consortia. There is untapped potential for studying the evolutionary dynamics of microbial systems. Market theory can help structure this potential by characterizing strategic investment of microbes across a diversity of conditions.
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