Shape and evolution of the fundamental niche in marine Vibrio

Arne C. Materna, Jonathan Friedman, Claudia Bauer, Christina David, Sara Chen, Ivy B. Huang, April Gillens, Sean A. Clarke, Martin F. Polz, Eric J. Alm*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Hutchinson's fundamental niche, defined by the physical and biological environments in which an organism can thrive in the absence of inter-species interactions, is an important theoretical concept in ecology. However, little is known about the overlap between the fundamental niche and the set of conditions species inhabit in nature, and about natural variation in fundamental niche shape and its change as species adapt to their environment. Here, we develop a custom-made dual gradient apparatus to map a cross-section of the fundamental niche for several marine bacterial species within the genus Vibrio based on their temperature and salinity tolerance, and compare tolerance limits to the environment where these species commonly occur. We interpret these niche shapes in light of a conceptual model comprising five basic niche shapes. We find that the fundamental niche encompasses a much wider set of conditions than those strains typically inhabit, especially for salinity. Moreover, though the conditions that strains typically inhabit agree well with the strains' temperature tolerance, they are negatively correlated with the strains' salinity tolerance. Such relationships can arise when the physiological response to different stressors is coupled, and we present evidence for such a coupling between temperature and salinity tolerance. Finally, comparison with well-documented ecological range in V. vulnificus suggests that biotic interactions limit the occurrence of this species at low-temperature-high- salinity conditions. Our findings highlight the complex interplay between the ecological, physiological and evolutionary determinants of niche morphology, and caution against making inferences based on a single ecological factor.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2168-2177
Number of pages10
JournalISME Journal
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes


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