Spatial structure leads to ecological breakdown and loss of diversity

Gerda Saxer, Michael Doebeli, Michael Travisano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Spatial structure has been identified as a major contributor to the maintenance of diversity. Here, we show that the impact of spatial structure on diversity is strongly affected by the ecological mechanisms maintaining diversity. In well-mixed, unstructured environments, microbial populations can diversify by production of metabolites during growth, providing additional resources for novel specialists. By contrast, spatially structured environments potentially limit such facilitation due to reduced metabolite diffusion. Using replicate microcosms containing the bacterium Escherichia coli, we predicted the loss of diversity during an environmental shift from a spatially unstructured environment to spatially structured conditions. Although spatial structure is frequently observed to be a major promoter of diversity, our results indicate that it can also have negative impacts on diversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2065-2070
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1664
StatePublished - Jun 7 2009


  • Ecological interactions
  • Evolution of diversity
  • Facilitation
  • Loss of diversity
  • Spatial structure


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