The idiosyncrasy of spatial structure in bacterial competition

Felix J.H. Hol, Peter Galajda, Rutger G. Woolthuis, Cees Dekker, Juan E. Keymer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

14 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The spatial structure of a habitat can have a strong impact on community dynamics. Different experimental approaches exist to explore the effect of spatial structure on bacterial communities. To investigate the effect of 'space', a single implementation of spatial structure is often contrasted to bacterial community dynamics in well-mixed cultures. While such comparisons are useful, it is likely that the observed dynamics will be particular to the specific experimental implementation of spatial structure. In order to address this question, we track the community dynamics of a two-strain Escherichia coli community in various spatial habitats and relate the observed dynamics to the structure of a habitat. Results: By tracking the community dynamics of rpoS wild-type and mutant E. coli in radially expanding colonies on solid and semi-solid agar plates, we find that the mutant strain outcompetes the wild-type on semi-solid agar plates, whereas the two strains coexist on solid agar. We compare these results to previous studies in which the same two strains were shown to coexist in habitats spatially structured by microfabrication, while the mutant outcompeted the wild-type in well-mixed batch cultures. Together, these observations show that different implementations of space may result in qualitatively different community dynamics. Furthermore, we argue that the same competitive outcome (e.g. coexistence) may arise from distinct underlying dynamics in different experimental implementations of spatial structure. Conclusions: Our observations demonstrate that different experimental implementations of spatial structure may not only lead to quantitatively different communities (changes in the relative abundance of types) but can also lead to qualitatively different outcomes of long-term community dynamics (coexistence versus extinction and loss of biodiversity).

Original languageEnglish
Article number245
JournalBMC Research Notes
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 17 2015



  • Bacterial competition
  • Cooperation
  • Spatial structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

Cite this