Linking genetic change to community evolution: insights from studies of bacteria and bacteriophage


Brendan J. M. Bohannan Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305–5020, U.S.A.E-mail:


A major goal of community ecology is to link biological processes at lower scales with community patterns. Microbial communities are especially powerful model systems for making these links. In this article, we review recent studies of laboratory communities of bacteria and bacteriophage (viruses that infect bacteria). We focus on the ecology and evolution of bacteriophage-resistance as a case study demonstrating the relationship between specific genes, individual interactions, population dynamics, community structure, and evolutionary change. In laboratory communities of bacteria and bacteriophage, bacteria rapidly evolve resistance to bacteriophage infection. Different resistance mutations produce distinct resistance phenotypes, differing, for example, in whether resistance is partial or complete, in the magnitude of the physiological cost associated with resistance, and in whether the mutation can be countered by a host-range mutation in the bacteriophage. These differences determine whether a mutant can invade, the effect its invasion has on the population dynamics of sensitive bacteria and phage, and the resulting structure of the community. All of these effects, in turn, govern the community’s response to environmental change and its subsequent evolution.