Microbial evolutionary strategies in a dynamic ocean

Nathan G. Walworth, Emily J. Zakem, John P. Dunne, Sinéad Collins, Naomi M. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Marine microbes form the base of ocean food webs and drive ocean biogeochemical cycling. Yet little is known about the ability of microbial populations to adapt as they are advected through changing conditions. Here, we investigated the interplay between physical and biological timescales using a model of adaptation and an eddy-resolving ocean circulation climate model. Two criteria were identified that relate the timing and nature of adaptation to the ratio of physical to biological timescales. Genetic adaptation was impeded in highly variable regimes by nongenetic modifications but was promoted in more stable environments. An evolutionary trade-off emerged where greater short-term nongenetic transgenerational effects (low-γ strategy) enabled rapid responses to environmental fluctuations but delayed genetic adaptation, while fewer short-term transgenerational effects (high-γ strategy) allowed faster genetic adaptation but inhibited short-term responses. Our results demonstrate that the selective pressures for organisms within a single water mass vary based on differences in generation timescales resulting in different evolutionary strategies being favored. Organisms that experience more variable environments should favor a low-γ strategy. Furthermore, faster cell division rates should be a key factor in genetic adaptation in a changing ocean. Understanding and quantifying the relationship between evolutionary and physical timescales is critical for robust predictions of future microbial dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Article number201919332
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Early online date2 Mar 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Mar 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • evolution
  • marine microbes
  • fluctuating environment
  • adaptation timescales
  • advection


Dive into the research topics of 'Microbial evolutionary strategies in a dynamic ocean'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this