From protists to humans, all animals and plants are inhabited by microbial organisms. There is an increasing appreciation that these resident microbes influence the fitness of their plant and animal hosts, ultimately forming a metaorganism consisting of a uni- or multicellular host and a community of associated microorganisms. Research on host–microbe interactions has become an emerging cross-disciplinary field. In both vertebrates and invertebrates a complex microbiome confers immunological, metabolic and behavioural benefits; conversely, its disturbance can contribute to the development of disease states. However, the molecular and cellular mechanisms controlling the interactions within a metaorganism are poorly understood and many key interactions between the associated organisms remain unknown. In this perspective article, we outline some of the issues in interspecies interactions and in particular address the question of how metaorganisms react and adapt to inputs from extreme environments such as deserts, the intertidal zone, oligothrophic seas, and hydrothermal vents.