Rapid evolution allows coexistence of highly divergent lineages within the same niche

Ben A. Ward*, Sinead Collins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Marine microbial communities are extremely complex and diverse. The number of locally coexisting species often vastly exceeds the number of identifiable niches, and taxonomic composition often appears decoupled from local environmental conditions. This is contrary to the view that environmental conditions should select for a few locally well-adapted species. Here we use an individual-based eco-evolutionary model to show that virtually unlimited taxonomic diversity can be supported in highly evolving assemblages, even in the absence of niche separation. With a steady stream of heritable changes to phenotype, competitive exclusion may be weakened, allowing sustained coexistence of nearly neutral phenotypes with highly divergent lineages. This behaviour is robust even to abrupt environmental perturbations that might be expected to cause strong selection pressure and an associated loss of diversity. We, therefore, suggest that rapid evolution and individual-level variability are key drivers of species coexistence and maintenance of microbial biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1839-1853
Number of pages14
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number8
Early online date27 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • biodiversity
  • coexistence
  • convergent evolution
  • functional redundancy
  • microbial
  • neutral


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