Enzyme regulation and mutation in a model serial-dilution ecosystem.
Microbial communities are ubiquitous in nature and come in a multitude of forms, ranging from communities dominated by a handful of species to communities containing a wide variety of metabolically distinct organisms. This huge range in diversity is not a curiosity-microbial diversity has been linked to outcomes of substantial ecological and medical importance. However, the mechanisms underlying microbial diversity are still under debate, as simple mathematical models only permit as many species to coexist as there are resources. A plethora of mechanisms have been proposed to explain the origins of microbial diversity, but many of these analyses omit a key property of real microbial ecosystems: the propensity of the microbes themselves to change their growth properties within and across generations. In order to explore the impact of this key property on microbial diversity, we expand upon a recently developed model of microbial diversity in fluctuating environments. We implement changes in growth strategy in two distinct ways. First, we consider the regulation of a cell's enzyme levels within short, ecological times, and second we consider evolutionary changes driven by mutations across generations. Interestingly, we find that these two types of microbial responses to the environment can have drastically different outcomes. Enzyme regulation may collapse diversity over long enough times while, conversely, strategy-randomizing mutations can produce a "rich-get-poorer" effect that promotes diversity. This paper makes explicit, using a simple serial-dilutions framework, the conflicting ways that microbial adaptation and evolution can affect community diversity.