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Ecol Lett. 2010 Sep;13(9):1073-84. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01507.x. Epub 2010 Jun 22.

An integrative approach to understanding microbial diversity: from intracellular mechanisms to community structure.

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  • 1Department of Mathematics, Imperial College London, London SW72A7, UK.


Trade-offs have been put forward as essential to the generation and maintenance of diversity. However, variation in trade-offs is often determined at the molecular level, outside the scope of conventional ecological inquiry. In this study, we propose that understanding the intracellular basis for trade-offs in microbial systems can aid in predicting and interpreting patterns of diversity. First, we show how laboratory experiments and mathematical models have unveiled the hidden intracellular mechanisms underlying trade-offs key to microbial diversity: (i) metabolic and regulatory trade-offs in bacteria and yeast; (ii) life-history trade-offs in bacterial viruses. Next, we examine recent studies of marine microbes that have taken steps toward reconciling the molecular and the ecological views of trade-offs, despite the challenges in doing so in natural settings. Finally, we suggest avenues for research where mathematical modelling, experiments and studies of natural microbial communities provide a unique opportunity to integrate studies of diversity across multiple scales.

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