Microbial traits and trade-offs: Implications for community structure and biogeochemistry
Trait-based approaches provide a mechanistic framework to understand and predict the structure and functioning of diverse ecological communities, including the microbial communities. In microbes, resource utilization traits are among key traits that describe population dynamics and competition among microbes, and determine their biogeochemical impacts. Identifying trade-offs for prokaryotic and eukaryotic microbial taxa that define contrasting ecological strategies and contribute to species coexistence and diversity can help predict community structure. The shape, dimensionality and hierarchy of trade-offs may determine coexistence patterns and need to be better characterized. Global environmental change can alter microbial community composition through altering resource utilization by different microbes and, consequently, may modify biogeochemical impacts of microbes.
I present examples from phytoplankton and other microbes of the trait relationships and trade-offs among traits. Laboratory measured resource utilization traits can be used to explain temporal and spatial structure and dynamics of natural microbial communities and predict biogeochemical impacts. I outline some new frontiers in trait-based research, such as characterizing intraspecific trait variation and comparing it to interspecific variation to predict the potential responses of communities to changing environmental conditions, and measuring trait plasticity and evolution.