The rumen ecosystem represents a classic example of host-microbiome symbiosis. In this obligatory relationship, the host feeds on plant fibers that can only be degraded through a set of complex metabolic cascades, exclusively encoded in rumen-associated microbes. These various metabolic pathways are distributed across a multitude of microbial populations. Application of basic ecological principles to this ecosystem can contribute to profound understanding of the rules that shape it. Here, we discuss recent studies by examining the mapping between host attributes, rumen ecosystem composition, and functionality to propose simple, yet powerful concepts to guide the interpretation of microbiome data and enable a better understanding of how the system responds to perturbations.