Biodiversity is its own catalyst -- to a point

February 03, 2021

For decades, scientists have wrestled with rival theories to explain how interactions between species, like competition, influence biodiversity. Tracking microbial life across the planet, researchers from McGill University show that biodiversity does in fact foster further diversity in microbiomes that are initially less diverse. However, diversity rates plateau with increased competition for survival and space in more diverse microbiomes.

Published in eLife, the findings could help scientists better understand how microbiomes - communities of micro-organisms living together in particular habitats like humans, animals and plants or even soils and oceans - might recover from biodiversity loss.

"We know that biodiversity is important for ecosystem stability and functions, and many physical, chemical, and biological factors can affect biodiversity. Our study shows that ecological interactions are likely an important and general factor that promote diversity," says co-author Jesse Shapiro, an Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University.

Disruptions such as more antibiotics in the food chain or pesticides in the soil, are having profound effects on the human microbiome and the wider microbial ecosystem of the planet. Reversing the negative consequences requires an appreciation of what has gone wrong, as well as how to put matters right. This demands a better understanding of the workings of the microbiome, say the researchers.

Do predicted patterns occur in nature, not just in the lab?

The question of whether "diversity begets diversity" has been debated for years in studies of natural plant and animal populations and bacteria evolved in the laboratory. While some scientists argue that existing biodiversity can limit more diversity as species vie for space and survival, others argue that it can promote species richness and foster coexistence among different species.

To test how ecological theory actually plays out in nature, the researchers employed massive crowd-sourced efforts to analyze DNA sequences of microbial communities in the largest survey of biodiversity on the planet. Researchers found that microbiome diversity promotes further diversity in communities like the human gut, where there is less diversity. Yet diversification slows as ecological niches are increasingly filled in more diverse communities like soils.

The challenge of occupying the same niche

Ecological niches represent the role a species plays in a community - including how it responds to resources and competitors in a given habitat. It's challenging for two species to occupy the same niche in the same habitat for a long time. Under ideal conditions, a species will thrive and play a unique role, without struggling for survival and space. This explains why diversity rates peak as ecological niches are increasingly filled in communities with more individuals and types of species.

"We now have a better understanding of how the theory of biodiversity applies to a much larger fraction of the genetic diversity on Earth," says Shapiro.

The study focuses on the accumulation of diversity by way of migration: new types of bacteria arriving into one environment from another. In the future, the researchers plan to extend their study to evolutionary diversification, including mutation and gene gain or loss, and how it is affected by local biodiversity.
About this study

"Does diversity beget diversity in microbiomes?" by Naïma Madi, Michiel Vos, Carmen Lia Murall, Pierre Legendre, and B Jesse Shapiro is published in eLife.


About McGill University

Founded in Montreal, Quebec, in 1821, McGill University is Canada's top ranked medical doctoral university. McGill is consistently ranked as one of the top universities, both nationally and internationally. It?is a world-renowned?institution of higher learning with research activities spanning two campuses, 11 faculties, 13 professional schools, 300 programs of study and over 40,000 students, including more than 10,200 graduate students. McGill attracts students from over 150 countries around the world, its 12,800 international students making up 31% of the student body. Over half of McGill students claim a first language other than English, including approximately 19% of our students who say French is their mother tongue.

McGill University

Related Biodiversity Articles from Brightsurf:

Biodiversity hypothesis called into question
How can we explain the fact that no single species predominates?

Using the past to maintain future biodiversity
New research shows that safeguarding species and ecosystems and the benefits they provide for society against future climatic change requires effective solutions which can only be formulated from reliable forecasts.

Changes in farming urgent to rescue biodiversity
Humans depend on farming for their survival but this activity takes up more than one-third of the world's landmass and endangers 62% of all threatened species.

Predicting the biodiversity of rivers
Biodiversity and thus the state of river ecosystems can now be predicted by combining environmental DNA with hydrological methods, researchers from the University of Zurich and Eawag have found.

About the distribution of biodiversity on our planet
Large open-water fish predators such as tunas or sharks hunt for prey more intensively in the temperate zone than near the equator.

Bargain-hunting for biodiversity
The best bargains for conserving some of the world's most vulnerable salamanders and other vertebrate species can be found in Central Texas and the Appalachians, according to new conservation tools developed at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Researchers solve old biodiversity mystery
The underlying cause for why some regions are home to an extremely large number of animal species may be found in the evolutionary adaptations of species, and how they limit their dispersion to specific natural habitats.

Biodiversity offsetting is contentious -- here's an alternative
A new approach to compensate for the impact of development may be an effective alternative to biodiversity offsetting -- and help nations achieve international biodiversity targets.

Biodiversity yields financial returns
Farmers could increase their revenues by increasing biodiversity on their land.

Biodiversity and wind energy
The location and operation of wind energy plants are often in direct conflict with the legal protection of endangered species.

Read More: Biodiversity News and Biodiversity Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to