Macroecology of unicellular organisms – patterns and processes


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Macroecology examines the relationship between organisms and their environment at large spatial (and temporal) scales. Typically, macroecologists explain the large-scale patterns of abundance, distribution and diversity. Despite the difficulties in sampling and characterizing microbial diversity, macroecologists have recently also been interested in unicellular organisms. Here, I review the current advances made in microbial macroecology, as well as discuss related ecosystem functions. Overall, it seems that microorganisms suit surprisingly well to known species abundance distributions and show positive relationship between distribution and adundance. Microbial species–area and distance–decay relationships tend to be weaker than for macroorganisms, but nonetheless significant. Few findings on altitudinal gradients in unicellular taxa seem to differ greatly from corresponding findings for larger taxa, whereas latitudinal gradients among microorganisms have either been clearly evident or absent depending on the context. Literature also strongly emphasizes the role of spatial scale for the patterns of diversity and suggests that patterns are affected by species traits as well as ecosystem characteristics. Finally, I discuss the large role of local biotic and abiotic variables driving the community assembly in unicellular taxa and eventually dictating how multiple ecosystem processes are performed. Present review highlights the fact that most microorganisms may not differ fundamentally from larger taxa in their large-scale distribution patterns. Yet, review also shows that many aspects of microbial macroecology are still relatively poorly understood and specific patterns depend on focal taxa and ecosystem concerned.