New insights into the effects of several environmental parameters on the relative fitness of a numerically dominant class of evolved niche specialist

Anna Kuśmierska, Andrew J. Spiers

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    Adaptive radiation in bacteria has been investigated using Wrinkly Spreaders (WS), a morphotype which colonises the air-liquid (A-L) interface of static microcosms by biofilm formation with a significant fitness advantage over competitors growing lower down in the O2-limited liquid column. Here, we investigate several environmental parameters which impact the ecological opportunity that the Wrinkly Spreaders exploit in this model system. Manipulation of surface area/volume ratios suggests that the size of the WS niche was not as important as the ability to dominate the A-L interface and restrict competitor growth. The value of this niche to the Wrinkly Spreaders, as determined by competitive fitness assays, was found to increase as O2 flux to the A-L interface was reduced, confirming that competition for O2 was the main driver of WS fitness. The effect of O2 on fitness was also found to be dependent on the availability of nutrients, reflecting the need to take up both for optimal growth. Finally, the meniscus trap, a high-O2 region formed by the interaction of the A-L interface with the vial walls, was also important for fitness during the early stages of biofilm formation. These findings reveal the complexity of this seemingly simple model system and illustrate how changes in environmental physicality alter ecological opportunity and the fitness of the adaptive morphotype.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number 4846565
    Number of pages10
    JournalInternational Journal of Evolutionary Biology
    Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2016


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