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Annu Rev Microbiol. 2004;58:207-31.

The ecology and genetics of microbial diversity.

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  • 1Department of Biology and Center for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics, University of Ottawa , Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5, Canada. rkassen@uottawa.ca


Natural communities of microbes are often diverse, a fact that is difficult to reconcile with the action of natural selection in simple, uniform environments. We suggest that this apparent paradox may be resolved by considering the origin and fate of diversity in an explicitly ecological context. Here, we review insights into the ecological and genetic causes of diversity that stem from experiments with microbial populations evolving in the defined conditions of the laboratory environment. These studies highlight the importance of environmental structure in governing the fate of diversity and shed light on the genetic mechanisms generating diversity. We conclude by emphasizing the importance of placing detailed molecular-level studies within the context of a sound ecological and evolutionary framework.

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