DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.16495 ISSN:

Ecology theory disentangles microbial dichotomies

Luciana L. Couso, Alfonso Soler‐Bistué, Ariel A. Aptekmann, Ignacio E. Sánchez
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Microbiology


Microbes are often discussed in terms of dichotomies such as copiotrophic/oligotrophic and fast/slow‐growing microbes, defined using the characterisation of microbial growth in isolated cultures. The dichotomies are usually qualitative and/or study‐specific, sometimes precluding clear‐cut results interpretation. We can unravel microbial dichotomies as life history strategies by combining ecology theory with Monod curves, a laboratory mathematical tool of bacterial physiology that relates the specific growth rate of a microbe with the concentration of a limiting nutrient. Fitting of Monod curves provides quantities that directly correspond to key parameters in ecological theories addressing species coexistence and diversity, such as r/K selection theory, resource competition and community structure theory and the CSR triangle of life strategies. The resulting model allows us to reconcile the copiotrophic/oligotrophic and fast/slow‐growing dichotomies as different subsamples of a life history strategy triangle that also includes r/K strategists. We also used the number of known carbon sources together with community structure theory to partially explain the diversity of heterotrophic microbes observed in metagenomics experiments. In sum, we propose a theoretical framework for the study of natural microbial communities that unifies several existing proposals. Its application would require the integration of metagenomics, metametabolomics, Monod curves and carbon source data.

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