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Trends Microbiol. 2015 Jun;23(6):335-40. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2015.01.007. Epub 2015 Feb 6.

Temporal patterns of rarity provide a more complete view of microbial diversity.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA. Electronic address:
Institute for Genomic and Systems Biology, Argonne National Laboratory, 9700 South Cass Avenue, Argonne, IL 60439, USA; Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, 5640 South Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637, USA; Marine Biological Laboratory, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA; College of Environmental and Resource Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, 310058, China.


Recently, conditionally rare taxa (CRTs)--those taxa that are typically in very low abundance but occasionally achieve prevalence--were shown to contribute to patterns of microbial diversity because their collective dynamics explained a large proportion of temporal variability in microbial community structure. Here the benefits and challenges of characterizing the presence and interpreting the role of CRTs are further explored, along with questions about CRT ecology. We also introduce a conceptual model for thinking about microbial taxa as dynamic components along the dimensions of occurrence and abundance. Accounting for CRTs in interpretations of microbial ecological dynamics is essential if we are to understand community stability and ecoevolutionary interactions.


ecology; microbial communities; next-generation sequencing; rare biosphere; time series

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