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Trends Ecol Evol. 2004 Apr;19(4):189-97.

Big questions, small worlds: microbial model systems in ecology.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020, USA.


Although many biologists have embraced microbial model systems as tools to address genetic and physiological questions, the explicit use of microbial communities as model systems in ecology has traditionally been more restricted. Here, we highlight recent studies that use laboratory-based microbial model systems to address ecological questions. Such studies have significantly advanced our understanding of processes that have proven difficult to study in field systems, including the genetic and biochemical underpinnings of traits involved in ecological interactions, and the ecological differences driving evolutionary change. It is the simplicity of microbial model systems that makes them such powerful tools for the study of ecology. Such simplicity enables the high degrees of experimental control and replication that are necessary to address many questions that are inaccessible through field observation or experimentation.


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