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Proc Biol Sci. 2017 Oct 11;284(1864). pii: 20170415. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0415.

Evolutionary contribution to coexistence of competitors in microbial food webs.

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Department of Food and Environmental Sciences/Microbiology and Biotechnology, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 56, Helsinki 00014, Finland
Department of Biosciences/Ecology and Evolutionary biology, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 65, Helsinki 00014, Finland.
Department of Evolutionary Ecology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Community Dynamics Group, August Thienemann Str. 2, 24306 Plön, Germany.


The theory of species coexistence is a key concept in ecology that has received much attention. The role of rapid evolution for determining species coexistence is still poorly understood although evolutionary change on ecological time-scales has the potential to change almost any ecological process. The influence of evolution on coexistence can be especially pronounced in microbial communities where organisms often have large population sizes and short generation times. Previous work on coexistence has assumed that traits involved in resource use and species interactions are constant or change very slowly in terms of ecological time-scales. However, recent work suggests that these traits can evolve rapidly. Nevertheless, the importance of rapid evolution to coexistence has not been tested experimentally. Here, we show how rapid evolution alters the frequency of two bacterial competitors over time when grown together with specialist consumers (bacteriophages), a generalist consumer (protozoan) and all in combination. We find that consumers facilitate coexistence in a manner consistent with classic ecological theory. However, through disentangling the relative contributions of ecology (changes in consumer abundance) and evolution (changes in traits mediating species interactions) on the frequency of the two competitors over time, we find differences between the consumer types and combinations. Overall, our results indicate that the influence of evolution on species coexistence strongly depends on the traits and species interactions considered.


Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25; Tetrahymena thermophila; community dynamics; eco-evolutionary dynamics; experimental evolution; interaction

[Available on 2018-10-11]

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