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Biosystems. 2009 May;96(2):127-35. doi: 10.1016/j.biosystems.2008.12.006. Epub 2008 Dec 31.

Auto-/heterotrophic endosymbiosis evolves in a mature stage of ecosystem development in a microcosm composed of an alga, a bacterium and a ciliate.

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1
Department of Biology, Ehime University, Bunkyo-cho 2-5, Matsuyama 790-8577, Japan. nakajima@sci.ehime-u.ac.jp

Abstract

We investigate an ecological mechanism by which endosymbiotic associations evolve, with a particular focus on the relationship between the evolution of endosymbiosis between auto- and heterotrophic organisms, and the stages of ecosystem development. For this purpose we conducted a long-term microcosm culture composed of three species, a green alga (Chlorella vulgaris), a bacterium (Escherichia coli), and a ciliated protozoan (Tetrahymena thermophila) for 3 years. During this culture T. thermophila cells harboring Chlorella cells emerged by phagocytotic uptake, and increased in frequency, reaching ca. 80-90%. This level was maintained in the late stage of ecosystem dynamics. Analysis of the ecosystem dynamics in the microcosm revealed that a complex causal process through direct/indirect interactions among ecosystem components led to reduction in dissolved O2 and food (E. coli) available to the T. thermophila, which gave a selective advantage to the organisms in the endosymbiotic association. This result suggests that the endosymbiosis evolves in a mature stage of ecosystem development, where reproduction and survival of prospective partner organisms is highly resource-limited and density-dependent, favoring efficient matter/energy transfers among participating organisms due to physical proximity. Consequently, a complex web of interactions and pathways of matter/energy flow in ecosystem evolves from an initially simple one.

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