Microbial seed banks: processes and patterns of dormancy-driven biodiversity

  • Funded By: National Science Foundation
  • ECI Investigators: Stuart Jones

The overarching goals of this research project are to identify the key ecological and evolutionary processes that generate and maintain microbial biodiversity, and to understand how this diversity in turn influences ecosystem processes.  Microorganisms are the most abundant and diverse taxa on Earth.  Despite their ecological and economic importance, it is unclear what maintains the diversity of microbial communities, what adaptive traits allow microorganisms to contend with changing environments, and what accounts for their exceptional spatial distributions.  Recent studies suggest that the ability to enter a reversible state of reduced metabolic activity or dormancy may be central to answering these questions.

This project investigates the implications of dormancy for some microbial communities on ecosystem function.  The research team explores the pervasive effects of the ability of some microorganisms to enter a reversible state of reduced metabolic activity. The researchers describe the genomic foundations and taxonomic distribution of this important trait, as well as other potential traits that are hypothesized to exist in trade off with dormancy.  Additionally, the research looks at persistence rates, regulated in part by dormancy, of a large number of bacterial isolates under starvation conditions over the last two years.

In addition to revealing key processes and feedbacks that contribute to the maintenance of microbial diversity, the project has practical implications for understanding challenges associated with antibiotic resistance, pest outbreaks, and the restoration of managed ecosystems.

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