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Evolution. 2015 Feb;69(2):283-93. doi: 10.1111/evo.12581. Epub 2015 Jan 19.

Character displacement and the evolution of niche complementarity in a model biofilm community.

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Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Biomedical Sciences, University of New Hampshire, 212 Rudman Hall, Durham, New Hampshire, 03824; Current Address: Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, 55 Fruit Street, Boston, Massachusetts, 02114.


Colonization of vacant environments may catalyze adaptive diversification and be followed by competition within the nascent community. How these interactions ultimately stabilize and affect productivity are central problems in evolutionary ecology. Diversity can emerge by character displacement, in which selection favors phenotypes that exploit an alternative resource and reduce competition, or by facilitation, in which organisms change the environment and enable different genotypes or species to become established. We previously developed a model of long-term experimental evolution in which bacteria attach to a plastic bead, form a biofilm, and disperse to a new bead. Here, we focus on the evolution of coexisting mutants within a population of Burkholderia cenocepacia and how their interactions affected productivity. Adaptive mutants initially competed for space, but later competition declined, consistent with character displacement and the predicted effects of the evolved mutations. The community reached a stable equilibrium as each ecotype evolved to inhabit distinct, complementary regions of the biofilm. Interactions among ecotypes ultimately became facilitative and enhanced mixed productivity. Observing the succession of genotypes within niches illuminated changing selective forces within the community, including a fundamental role for genotypes producing small colony variants that underpin chronic infections caused by B. cenocepacia.


Diversity; experimental evolution; productivity; resource limitation

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