Microbial societies do not like oligarchy

Mar 12, 2009

Bacteria and humans tend to live in highly diverse and complex communities. Most interestingly, bacteria and humans appear to prefer to live in a democracy. This is the basic message of the paper entitled "Initial community evenness favours functionality under selective stress", published this week in the last issue of Nature. The article reports that initial high community evenness is a key factor in preserving functional stability of an ecosystem in the face of selective stress.

The research has been performed by a consortium of five groups from two Universities in Belgium and Italy, respectively and coordinated by Dr. Lieven Wittebolle, Dr. Massimo Marzorati and Prof. Nico Boon from Ghent University. The research has been performed in collaboration with the research teams of Dr. Lieven Clement, Prof. De Vos and Prof. Verstraete from Ghent University and Prof. Daniele Daffonchio from the University of Milan.

Owing to the present global biodiversity crisis, the biodiversity-stability relationship and the effect of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning have become major topics in ecology. The research is part of a project having as a final objective the understanding of the major factors necessary to steer and engineer microbial communities to obtain stable and reliable biotechnological processes, which are needed in environmental and medical sciences. It has been stated that, for the next decades, the microbial ecologists and environmental have to focus on microbial resource management (MRM) to properly manage complex . They should address a new mindset based on well-documented concepts, reliable tools and a set of default values.

Biodiversity is a complex term that includes taxonomic, functional, spatial and temporal aspects of organismic diversity, with (the number of species) and evenness (the relative abundance of species) considered among the most important measures. Using experimental microcosms with , this paper shows that initial is a key factor in preserving the functional stability of an ecosystem. In particular, it demonstrated that a community must have an even distribution among its functional redundant members if it is to respond rapidly to . In fact, when an ecosystem function in a highly uneven community depends strongly on the dominant species, the functional stability is endangered by environmental fluctuations. In other words, a too strong selection that leads to the dominance of one or a few species will not guarantee a good performing ecosystem.

This finding can have important implications and new opportunities for scientists working in domains such as applied and fundamental environmental sciences, food science and even medical microbiology. Current molecular techniques could be used to predict ecosystem function failure and to manage biotechnological technologies with mixed microbial communities for a long-standing performance.

More information: Wittebolle L., Marzorati M., Clement L., Balloi A., Daffonchio D., Heylen K., De Vos P., Verstraete W., Boon N. 2009. Initial community evenness favors functionality under selective stress. Nature, DOI 10.1038/nature07840.

Provided by University of Milan

Explore further: Prions can trigger 'stuck' wine fermentations, researchers find

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Stability and Diversity in Ecosystems

Aug 03, 2007

Is biodiversity important for predicting human impacts on ecosystems? If diverse ecosystems were as a consequence more stable, the answer would be yes.

Hydrothermal vents: Hot spots of microbial diversity

Oct 04, 2007

Thousands of new kinds of marine microbes have been discovered at two deep-sea hydrothermal vents off the Oregon coast by scientists at the MBL (Marine Biological Laboratory) and University of Washington’s Joint Institute ...

Ecological genetics of freshwater bacteria surveyed

Feb 01, 2008

Novel molecular techniques have been responsible for major strides in microbial ecology and are addressing broadly important scientific questions about the variety and distribution of microbial life, according to an article ...

Recommended for you

New tool aids stem cell engineering for medical research

15 hours ago

A Mayo Clinic researcher and his collaborators have developed an online analytic tool that will speed up and enhance the process of re-engineering cells for biomedical investigation. CellNet is a free-use Internet platform ...

New type of cell movement discovered

16 hours ago

For decades, researchers have used petri dishes to study cell movement. These classic tissue culture tools, however, only permit two-dimensional movement, very different from the three-dimensional movements ...

How the zebrafish gets its stripes

16 hours ago

The zebrafish, a small fresh water fish, owes its name to a striking pattern of blue stripes alternating with golden stripes. Three major pigment cell types, black cells, reflective silvery cells, and yellow ...

User comments : 0