Experimental evolution is relevant to ecology because it can connect physiology, and in particular metabolism, to questions in ecology. The investigation of the linkage between the environment and the evolution of metabolism is tractable because these experiments manipulate a very simple environment to produce predictable evolutionary outcomes. In doing so, microbial selection experiments can examine the causal elements of natural selection: how specific traits in varying environments will yield different fitnesses. Here, we review the methodology of microbial evolution experiments and address three issues that are relevant to ecologists: genotype-by-environment interactions, ecological diversification due to specialization, and negative frequency-dependent selection. First, we expect that genotype-by-environment interactions will be ubiquitous in biological systems. Second, while antagonistic pleiotropy is implicated in some cases of ecological specialization, other mechanisms also seem to be at work. Third, while negative frequency-dependent selection can maintain ecological diversity in laboratory systems, a mechanistic (biochemical) analysis of these systems suggests that negative frequency dependence may only apply within a narrow range of environments if resources are substitutable. Finally, we conclude that microbial experimental evolution needs to avail itself of molecular techniques that could enable a mechanistic understanding of ecological diversification in these simple systems.
© 2003 Ecological Society of America
M. Feldgarden, D. M. Stoebel, D. Brisson, and D. E. Dykhuizen. 2003. Size doesn't matter: microbial selection experiments address ecological questions. Ecology, 84:1679-1687. DOI: 10.1890/0012-9658(2003)084[1679:SDMMSE]2.0.CO;2