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November 15, 2018

A Foraging Mandala for Aquatic Microorganisms

Funders: Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Simons Foundation

Authors: Roman Stocker, Vincente I. Fernandez, Yutaka Yawata

Language: English

Aquatic environments harbor a great diversity of microorganisms, which interact with the same patchy, particulate, or diffuse resources by means of a broad array of physiological and behavioral adaptations, resulting in substantially different life histories and ecological success. To date, efforts to uncover and understand this diversity have not been matched by equivalent efforts to identify unifying frameworks that can provide a degree of generality and thus serve as a stepping stone to scale up microscale dynamics to predict their ecosystem-level consequences. In particular, evaluating the ecological consequences of different resource landscapes and of different microbial adaptations has remained a major challenge in aquatic microbial ecology. Here, inspired by Ramon Margalef's mandala for phytoplankton, we propose a foraging mandala for microorganisms in aquatic environments, which accounts for both the local environment and individual adaptations. This biophysical framework distills resource acquisition into two fundamental parameters: the search time for a new resource and the growth return obtained from encounter with a resource. We illustrate the foraging mandala by considering a broad range of microbial adaptations and environmental characteristics. The broad applicability of the foraging mandala suggests that it could be a useful framework to compare disparate microbial strategies in aquatic environments and to reduce the vast complexity of microbe-environment interactions into a minimal number of fundamental parameters.