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Diversity and productivity peak at intermediate dispersal rate in evolving metacommunities


Positive relationships between species diversity and productivity have been reported for a number of ecosystems1,2. Theoretical and experimental studies have attempted to determine the mechanisms that generate this pattern over short timescales1,2, but little attention has been given to the problem of understanding how diversity and productivity are linked over evolutionary timescales. Here, we investigate the role of dispersal in determining both diversity and productivity over evolutionary timescales, using experimental metacommunities of the bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens assembled by divergent natural selection. We show that both regional diversity and productivity peak at an intermediate dispersal rate. Moreover, we demonstrate that these two patterns are linked: selection at intermediate rates of dispersal leads to high niche differentiation between genotypes, allowing greater coverage of the heterogeneous environment and a higher regional productivity. We argue that processes that operate over both ecological and evolutionary timescales should be jointly considered when attempting to understand the emergence of ecosystem-level properties such as diversity–function relationships.

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Figure 1: Metacommunity productivity as a function of dispersal rate.
Figure 2: Individual genotypic productivity for each dispersal level.
Figure 3: Phenotypic variance partitioning and niche breadth for each dispersal treatment.
Figure 4: Metacommunity diversity and productivity.


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This work was supported by research grant ‘Programme National EC2CO’ (to N.M. and P.A.V.), by ‘Le Fond National de la Science’ and ‘Programme Microbiologique’ (to M.E.H.) and grants from NERC UK to the Centre for Population Biology (to R.C.M.). We thank B. Bochner for advice on the Biolog microplates, C. Bouvier for methodological advices and help with the spectrophotometer, and C. de Mazancourt and I. Olivieri for discussions. R. Barrett provided the ancestral bacterial strain. T. Bell, B. Facon and V. Ravigné provided comments on an earlier version of our manuscript.

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Correspondence to P. A. Venail or N. Mouquet.

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Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Figure 1 and Legend, Supplementary Discussion and Supplementary Note with additional references. The Supplementary Figure 1 shows the proportion of total phenotypic variance explained by responsiveness for each dispersal treatment. The liner test shows a decrease in responsiveness with dispersal. The Supplementary Discussion treats non substrate-specific mutations that may generate an increase in fitness simultaneously in more than one substrate. In our treatments with dispersal, beneficial mutations generated ex situ (even those not substrate-specific) are constantly introduced by migration, allowing adaptation to ‘poor’ quality habitats. The Supplementary Note includes the references cited in Supplementary Discussion. (PDF 82 kb)

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Venail, P., MacLean, R., Bouvier, T. et al. Diversity and productivity peak at intermediate dispersal rate in evolving metacommunities. Nature 452, 210–214 (2008).

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