The microbial contribution to macroecology

Albert Barberán, Emilio O. Casamayor, Noah Fierer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations

Abstract

There has been a recent explosion of research within the field of microbial ecology that has been fueled, in part, by methodological improvements that make it feasible to characterize microbial communities to an extent that was inconceivable only a few years ago. Furthermore, there is increasing recognition within the field of ecology that microorganisms play a critical role in the health of organisms and ecosystems. Despite these developments, an important gap still persists between the theoretical framework of macroecology and microbial ecology. We highlight two idiosyncrasies of microorganisms that are fundamental to understanding macroecological patterns and their mechanistic drivers. First, high dispersal rates provide novel opportunities to test the relative importance of niche, stochastic, and historical processes in structuring biological communities. Second, high speciation rates potentially lead to the convergence of ecological and evolutionary time scales. After reviewing these unique aspects, we discuss strategies for improving the conceptual integration of microbes into macroecology. As examples, we discuss the use of phylogenetic ecology as an integrative approach to explore patterns across the tree of life. Then we demonstrate how two general theories of biodiversity (i.e., the recently developed theory of stochastic geometry and the neutral theory) can be adapted to microorganisms. We demonstrate how conceptual models that integrate evolutionary and ecological mechanisms can contribute to the unification of microbial ecology and macroecology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number203
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Volume5
Issue numberMAY
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Dispersal
  • Macroecology
  • Microbial ecology
  • Neutral theory
  • Speciation
  • Stochastic geometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)

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