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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Apr 15;111(15):5622-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1318943111. Epub 2014 Apr 1.

Competition-dispersal tradeoff ecologically differentiates recently speciated marine bacterioplankton populations.

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  • 1Ralph M. Parsons Laboratory, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139.


Although competition-dispersal tradeoffs are commonly invoked to explain species coexistence for animals and plants in spatially structured environments, such mechanisms for coexistence remain unknown for microorganisms. Here we show that two recently speciated marine bacterioplankton populations pursue different behavioral strategies to exploit nutrient particles in adaptation to the landscape of ephemeral nutrient patches characteristic of ocean water. These differences are mediated primarily by differential colonization of and dispersal among particles. Whereas one population is specialized to colonize particles by attaching and growing biofilms, the other is specialized to disperse among particles by rapidly detecting and swimming toward new particles, implying that it can better exploit short-lived patches. Because the two populations are very similar in their genomic composition, metabolic abilities, chemotactic sensitivity, and swimming speed, this fine-scale behavioral adaptation may have been responsible for the onset of the ecological differentiation between them. These results demonstrate that the principles of spatial ecology, traditionally applied at macroscales, can be extended to the ocean's microscale to understand how the rich spatiotemporal structure of the resource landscape contributes to the fine-scale ecological differentiation and species coexistence among marine bacteria.


attachment; fugitive species; marine particles; microfluidics; migration

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