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Title: Nutrient levels and trade-offs control diversity in a serial dilution ecosystem
In most environments, organisms compete for limited resources. The number and relative abundance of species that an ecosystem can host is referred to as ‘species diversity’. The competitive-exclusion principle is a hypothesis which proposes that, in an ecosystem, competition for resources results in decreased diversity: only species best equipped to consume the available resources thrive, while their less successful competitors die off. However, many natural ecosystems foster a wide array of species despite offering relatively few resources. Researchers have proposed many competing theories to explain how this paradox can emerge, but they have mainly focused on ecosystems where nutrients are steadily supplied. By contrast, less is known about the way species diversity is maintained when nutrients are only intermittently available, for example in ecosystems that have seasons. To address this question, Erez, Lopez et al. modeled communities of bacteria in which nutrients were repeatedly added and then used up. Depending on conditions, a variety of relationships between the amount of nutrient supplied and community diversity could emerge, suggesting that ecosystems do not follow a simple, universal rule that dictates species diversity. In particular, the resulting communities displayed a higher diversity of microbes than the limit imposed by the competitive-exclusion principle. more » Further observations allowed Erez, Lopez et al. to suggest guiding principles for when diversity in ecosystems will be maintained or lost. In this framework, ‘early-bird’ species, which rapidly use a subset of the available nutrients, grow to dominate the ecosystem. Even though ‘late-bird’ species are more effective at consuming the remaining resources, they cannot compete with the increased sheer numbers of the ‘early-birds’, leading to a ‘rich-get-richer’ phenomenon. Oceanic plankton, arctic permafrost and many other threatened, resource-poor ecosystems across the world can dramatically influence our daily lives. Closer to home, shifts in the microbe communities that live on the surface of the human body and in the digestive system are linked to poor health. Understanding how species diversity emerges and changes will help to protect our external and internal environments. « less
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