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Single Mutations Can Alter Ecosystems to Same Extent as Species Loss

To date most research into what drives the composition of ecosystems has focused on macroevolution, factors such as extinction events, invasion of new species, or large shifts in population abundances. A study in Nature Communications now shows that microevolution — small changes within a single population — is an equally important yet hitherto overlooked shaper of multi-species communities.

To assess the role of microevolution McClean et al deleted regulators of Bacillus subtilis biofilm formation and asked whether these single gene deletions in a niche constructing species would alter abundances of other species in an artificial microcosm. Perturbation of Bacillus biofilm formation altered community composition to the same extent as loss of a top predator and to a greater extent than loss of Bacillus subtilis altogether. Single mutations in niche constructing species may thus be as important in shaping multi-species communities as extinction events and should thus be integrated into models of community dynamics.

Source: McClean D et al. (2015) Single gene locus changes perturb complex microbial communities as much as apex predator loss. Nat Commun. 10, 8235.

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