Life history strategies among soil bacteria—dichotomy for few, continuum for many

Bram W.G. Stone, Paul Dijkstra, Brianna K. Finley, Raina Fitzpatrick, Megan M. Foley, Michaela Hayer, Kirsten S. Hofmockel, Benjamin J. Koch, Junhui Li, Xiao Jun A. Liu, Ayla Martinez, Rebecca L. Mau, Jane Marks, Victoria Monsaint-Queeney, Ember M. Morrissey, Jeffrey Propster, Jennifer Pett-Ridge, Alicia M. Purcell, Egbert Schwartz, Bruce A. Hungate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Study of life history strategies may help predict the performance of microorganisms in nature by organizing the complexity of microbial communities into groups of organisms with similar strategies. Here, we tested the extent that one common application of life history theory, the copiotroph-oligotroph framework, could predict the relative population growth rate of bacterial taxa in soils from four different ecosystems. We measured the change of in situ relative growth rate to added glucose and ammonium using both 18O–H2O and 13C quantitative stable isotope probing to test whether bacterial taxa sorted into copiotrophic and oligotrophic groups. We saw considerable overlap in nutrient responses across most bacteria regardless of phyla, with many taxa growing slowly and few taxa that grew quickly. To define plausible life history boundaries based on in situ relative growth rates, we applied Gaussian mixture models to organisms’ joint 18O–13C signatures and found that across experimental replicates, few taxa could consistently be assigned as copiotrophs, despite their potential for fast growth. When life history classifications were assigned based on average relative growth rate at varying taxonomic levels, finer resolutions (e.g., genus level) were significantly more effective in capturing changes in nutrient response than broad taxonomic resolution (e.g., phylum level). Our results demonstrate the difficulty in generalizing bacterial life history strategies to broad lineages, and even to single organisms across a range of soils and experimental conditions. We conclude that there is a continued need for the direct measurement of microbial communities in soil to advance ecologically realistic frameworks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)611-619
Number of pages9
JournalISME Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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