John Templeton Foundation

Niche construction and evolutionary diversity in experimental communities


Recent research has proposed that species with similar ecosystem engineering capacity work in tandem to modify habitats (cooperative ecosystem engineering) creating stronger, sometimes synergistic effect, on habitat structure providing an enhanced selective trajectory influencing future generations. This model is contentious but can be tested using simple but natural benthic systems. The process of sediment bio-stabilisation is a recognised and wide spread ecosystem function, with examples ranging from mangroves to bacteria. We will use a proven system of experimental microcosms to examine control, single and multiple ecosystem engineering populations where the functional outcomes (sediment bio-stabilisation and primary productivity) can be determined. The stabilisation of the substratum promotes the formation of stable gradients, synonymous with niche differentiation and the concurrent impact on selective pressure. The functional impact of single and combined populations will be determined using approaches derived from environmental genomics supported by next generation sequencing and using approaches developed to assess the development of antibiotic resistance in bacterial populations. Target bacterial assemblages will be assessed under the hypothesis that if cooperative ecosystem engineering enhances niched separation and stabilises selective pressure then more rapid evolutionary change is to be expected.