Resource limitation drives spatial organization in microbial groups.
Mitri S., Clarke E., Foster KR.
Dense microbial groups such as bacterial biofilms commonly contain a diversity of cell types that define their functioning. However, we have a limited understanding of what maintains, or purges, this diversity. Theory suggests that resource levels are key to understanding diversity and the spatial arrangement of genotypes in microbial groups, but we need empirical tests. Here we use theory and experiments to study the effects of nutrient level on spatio-genetic structuring and diversity in bacterial colonies. Well-fed colonies maintain larger well-mixed areas, but they also expand more rapidly compared with poorly-fed ones. Given enough space to expand, therefore, well-fed colonies lose diversity and separate in space over a similar timescale to poorly fed ones. In sum, as long as there is some degree of nutrient limitation, we observe the emergence of structured communities. We conclude that resource-driven structuring is central to understanding both pattern and process in diverse microbial communities.