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Bacterial biofilms in a ‘genes-to-ecosystems’ context


Gregory M. Crutsinger, Fax: 604-822-2416; E-mail:


In ecology, there is an increasing amount of research dedicated to understanding how intraspecific genetic diversity can extend beyond the population level to influence the assembly of communities and the functioning of ecosystems. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, Koh et al. (2012) take this exploration to a new level using bacterial biofilms and protozoan grazers. They show that there is heritable variation in the phenotypes of different variants of biofilms of Serratia marcescens and that these strains display complementarity when combined in a diverse assemblage. Mixtures of variants were significantly more resistant to protozoan grazing than either wild-type or variant biofilms grown in monocultures. While similar biodiversity effects of genotype mixtures have been observed in other systems, Koh et al. (2012) link phenotype variation of the biofilms to a single nucleotide polymorphism in one regulatory gene. Importantly, the authors demonstrate that minimal changes in a genotype can result in substantial shifts in interspecific ecological interactions.