Environmental fluctuations reshape an unexpected diversity-disturbance relationship in a microbial community

Environmental disturbances have long been theorized to play a significant role in shaping the diversity and composition of ecosystems. However, an inability to specify the characteristics of a disturbance experimentally has produced an inconsistent picture of diversity-disturbance relationships (DDRs). Here, using a high-throughput programmable culture system, we subjected a soil-derived bacterial community to dilution disturbance profiles with different intensities (mean dilution rates), applied either constantly or with fluctuations of different frequencies. We observed an unexpected U-shaped relationship between community diversity and disturbance intensity in the absence of fluctuations. Adding fluctuations increased community diversity and erased the U-shape. All our results are well-captured by a Monod consumer resource model, which also explains how U-shaped DDRs emerge via a novel 'niche flip' mechanism. Broadly, our combined experimental and modeling framework demonstrates how distinct features of an environmental disturbance can interact in complex ways to govern ecosystem assembly and offers strategies for reshaping the composition of microbiomes.
Source: eLife - Category: Biomedical Science Tags: Computational and Systems Biology Source Type: research