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- Experimental evolution and ecological consequences : new niches and changing stoichiometry
- Turner, Caroline B.
- Electronic Theses & Dissertations
Evolutionary change can alter the ecological conditions in which organisms live and continue to evolve. My dissertation research used experimental evolution to study two aspects of evolutionary change with ecological consequences: the generation of new ecological niches and evolution of the elemental composition of biomass. I worked with the long-term evolution experiment (LTEE), which is an ongoing experiment in which E. coli have evolved under laboratory conditions for more than 60,000...
Show moreEvolutionary change can alter the ecological conditions in which organisms live and continue to evolve. My dissertation research used experimental evolution to study two aspects of evolutionary change with ecological consequences: the generation of new ecological niches and evolution of the elemental composition of biomass. I worked with the long-term evolution experiment (LTEE), which is an ongoing experiment in which E. coli have evolved under laboratory conditions for more than 60,000 generations. The LTEE began with extremely simple ecological conditions. Twelve populations were founded from a single bacterial genotype and growth was limited by glucose availability. In Chapter 1, I focused on a population within the LTEE in which some of the bacteria evolved the ability to consume a novel resource, citrate. Citrate was present in the growth media throughout the experiment, but E. coli is normally unable to consume it under aerobic conditions. The citrate consumers (Cit+) coexisted with a clade of bacteria which were unable to consume citrate (Cit-). Specialization on glucose, the standard carbon source in the LTEE, was insufficient to explain the frequency-dependent coexistence of Cit- with Cit+. Instead Cit– evolved to cross-feed on molecules released by Cit+. The evolutionary innovation of citrate consumption led to a more complex ecosystem in which two co-existing ecotypes made use of five different carbon sources.After 10,000 generations of coexistence, Cit- went extinct from the population (Chapter 2). I conducted replay experiments, re-evolving for 500 generations 20 replicate populations from prior to extinction. Cit- was retained in all populations, indicating that the extinction was not deterministic. Furthermore, when I added small numbers of Cit- to the population after extinction, Cit- was able to reinvade. It therefore appears that the Cit- extinction was not due to exclusion by Cit+, but rather to unknown laboratory variation.Chapter 3 shifts focus to studying evolutionary changes in stoichiometry, the ratio of different elements within organisms’ biomass. Variation in stoichiometry between organisms has important ecological consequences, but the evolutionary origin of that variation had not previously been studied experimentally. Growth in the LTEE is carbon limited and nitrogen and phosphorus are abundant. Additionally, daily transfer to fresh media selects for increased growth rate, which other research has suggested correlates to higher phosphorus content. Consistent with our predictions based on this environment, clones isolated after 50,000 generations of evolution had significantly higher nitrogen and phosphorus content than ancestral clones. There was no change in the proportion of carbon in biomass, but the total amount of carbon retained in biomass increased, indicating that the bacteria also evolved higher carbon use efficiency.To test whether the increases in nitrogen and phosphorus observed in the LTEE were a result of carbon limitation or were side effects of other selective factors in the experiment, I evolved clones from the LTEE for 1000 generations under nitrogen rather than carbon limitation (Chapter 4). The stoichiometry of the bacteria did change over the course of 1000 generations, indicating that evolution of stoichiometry can occur over relatively short time frames. Unexpectedly however, the evolved bacteria had higher nitrogen and phosphorus content. It appears that the bacteria were initially poor at incorporating nitrogen into biomass, but evolved improved nitrogen uptake.