Making sense of bacterial biodiversity

What determines the number of species in a given area? The amount of energy available to organisms (an area’s primary productivity) has been shown to be a key determinant of plant and animal biodiversity. However, it is not known if primary productivity can affect bacterial biodiversity. In an article to appear in the July 2003 issue of Ecology Letters, researchers led by a team at Stanford University report for the first time that primary productivity can, in fact, influence the diversity of bacterial communities.

They used a series of experimental ponds to demonstrate that increasing primary productivity can alter the number of taxonomic groups of bacteria present, and that the nature of this response can vary among different bacterial taxonomic groups. Bacteria may well comprise the majority of the earth’s biodiversity, and understanding the relationship between primary productivity and bacterial diversity is an important step toward understanding the processes responsible for the maintenance of bacterial biodiversity.

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