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Development of microbial ecological theory: stability, plasticity and evolution of microbial ecosystems

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How can we develop microbial ecological theory? Microbial ecosystems are well-adapted to fluctuations in the local environment. Stability of microbial ecosystems against environmental disturbances derives from ecosystem-level responses which can occur through changes in community composition and phenotypic ...

How can we develop microbial ecological theory? Microbial ecosystems are well-adapted to fluctuations in the local environment. Stability of microbial ecosystems against environmental disturbances derives from ecosystem-level responses which can occur through changes in community composition and phenotypic adaptation of component members. Environmental disturbances induce genetic alteration with selection resulting in occurrence of adapted strains in the microbial ecosystems. Stability, plasticity and evolution are key areas for progress in microbial ecological theory. With advances in microbial ecological techniques, can scientists begin to extract central and general tenets of an ecological theory that describes the features of microbial ecosystems.
Microorganisms are unseen. Thus, it is hard to understand ecological aspects of the microbial world. However, molecular ecology studies have been able to target the prokaryotic world and identify a variety of microorganisms including previously unknown ones. Furthermore, the emerging omics-type analyses seek to reveal interspecies networks and metabolic flux within microbial ecosystems. The dynamics of diversity and genetic composition of microflora are also being examined. Accordingly, dynamic equilibrium and the self-organizing ability of microbes are starting to be considered. We have entered the era where we can grasp the mechanisms of stability (i.e., resistance, resilience and persistence) of microbial ecosystems.
Macro-ecology has proposed a number of testable ecological hypotheses. As artificial manipulation and fluctuation are more easily applied to microbial ecosystems, can they be used to support these ecological hypotheses, e.g., intermediate disturbance hypothesis and the diversity-stability paradigm. Macro-ecological theory has been established that may partially explain microbial ecosystems; however species concepts, generation times and range and frequency of fluctuation in microbial ecosystems are quite different from those in macro-ecosystems. Novel theory will surely be required for microbial ecosystems.
Microbial ecologists are working to answer the following questions about the microbial ecosystems they study; what microbes are microbial ecosystems composed of? How are microbes distributed in their ecosystems? How is microbial composition/population determined? How do microbes interact with each other in ecosystems? How is the physiological state of microbes affected by the environment and other microbes? How do interspecies/cell-to-cell interactions affect the ecosystems? How do (apparently) inferior microbes persist in the ecosystem? How does a foreign microbe become a member of the ecosystem? How do microbes in ecosystems evolve? Is an ecological hypothesis correct? All of these studies will be helpful to reach an ecological theory. We encourage submissions of microbiological studies in which an ecological theory is extensively discussed; mathematical and theoretical studies on microbial ecosystems are also welcome. The goal of this Research Topic is to present a variety of reports and hopefully assemble all the pieces into a picture representing general rules of microbial ecosystems.


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