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Geographical variation in the diversity of microbial communities: research directions and prospects for experimental biogeography

AuthorsHortal, Joaquín
Issue Date2011
PublisherCambridge University Press
CitationGeographical variation in the diversity of microbial communities: research directions and prospects for experimental biogeography: 335- 356 (2011)
AbstractTraditionally, most ecologists understand the world from a human scale. Ecosystems are often understood as large visible units of the landscape , usually homogeneous land patches or a series of adjacent patches with intense flows of individuals, energy or biomass and nutrients. However, there is more in a landscape than meets the eye. An arguably homogeneous land patch within a landscape hosts many small ecosystems, or microhabitat patches, where many different communities of microbes dwell and interact. For example, imagine you are standing in a clearing of an open forest in a temperate region. A terrestrial ecologist studying macroscopic organisms would think he is looking at part of a single ecosystem. On the contrary, a microbial ecologist will identify a plethora of different ecosystems, including leaf litter of different degrees of humidity, the bark of each different tree and shrub species, treeholes, temporary puddles and pools, moss cushions of different life forms growing over different substrates, etc. Not to mention soil communities. In other words, a 1 ha clearing within a forest could be considered a whole landscape for many groups of microbes. A key question in microbial ecology is thus whether the patterns and organization of microbial communities differ from those of macroscopic organisms just in terms of scale or they are so radically different that the rules affecting macrobes cannot be extrapolated to microbes. The debate on this question extends to the biogeography of microorganisms. Strikingly, it has been argued that most microorganisms do not have biogeography; that is, that contrary to macroorganisms, the distributions of microorganism species are just limited by local environmental conditions (e.g. Fenchel & Finlay, 2003, 2004 and below). But, are microbes so different from their larges relatives than they follow different ecological and biogeographical rules?
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