Diversity-function relationships in natural, applied, and engineered microbial ecosystems

Andrew Free, Michael A McDonald, Eulyn Pagaling

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The connection between ecosystem function and taxonomic diversity has been of interest and relevance to macroecologists for decades. After many years of lagging behind due to the difficulty of assigning both taxonomy and function to poorly distinguishable microscopic cells, microbial ecology now has access to a suite of powerful molecular tools which allow its practitioners to generate data relating to diversity and function of a microbial community on an unprecedented scale. Instead, the problem facing today's microbial ecologists is coupling the ease of generation of these datasets with the formulation and testing of workable hypotheses relating the diversity and function of environmental, host-associated, and engineered microbial communities. Here, we review the current state of knowledge regarding the links between taxonomic alpha- and beta-diversity and ecosystem function, comparing our knowledge in this area to that obtained by macroecologists who use more traditional techniques. We consider the methodologies that can be applied to study these properties and how successful they are at linking function to diversity, using examples from the study of model microbial ecosystems, methanogenic bioreactors (anaerobic digesters), and host-associated microbiota. Finally, we assess ways in which our newly acquired understanding might be used to manipulate diversity in ecosystems of interest in order to improve function for the benefit of us or the environment in general through the provision of ecosystem services.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Applied Microbiology
Number of pages59
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Aug 2018

Publication series

NameAdvances in applied microbiology
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
ISSN (Print)0065-2164


  • ecosystem
  • industrial microbiology/methods
  • metabolism
  • microbial consortia


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