All social organisms experience dilemmas between cooperators performing group-beneficial actions and cheats selfishly exploiting these actions. Although bacteria have become model organisms to study social dilemmas in laboratory systems, we know little about their relevance in natural communities. Here, we show that social interactions mediated by a single shareable compound necessary for growth (the iron-scavenging pyoverdine)
have important consequences for competitive dynamics in soil and pond communities of Pseudomonas bacteria. We find that pyoverdine non- and low-producers co-occur in many natural communities. While non-producers have genes coding for multiple pyoverdine receptors and are able to exploit compatible heterologous pyoverdines from other community members, producers differ in the pyoverdine types they secrete, offering protection against exploitation from non-producers with incompatible receptors. Our findings indicate that there is both selection for cheating and cheating resistance, which could drive antagonistic co-evolution and diversification in natural bacterial communities.