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Space, Time, and Host Evolution Facilitate Coexistence of Competing Bacteriophages: Theory and Experiment

L. Caitlin Coberly, Wei Wei, Koffi Y. Sampson, Jack Millstein, Holly A. Wichman and Stephen M. Krone
The American Naturalist
Vol. 173, No. 4 (April 2009), pp. E121-E138
DOI: 10.1086/597226
Stable URL:
Page Count: 18
Subjects: Biological Sciences Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
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Space, Time, and Host Evolution Facilitate Coexistence of Competing Bacteriophages: Theory and Experiment
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Abstract: We present a joint experimental/theoretical investigation into the roles of spatial structure and time in the competition between two pathogens for a single host. We suggest a natural mechanism by which competing pathogens can coexist when host evolution and competitive dynamics occur on similar timescales. Our experimental system consisted of a single bacterial host species and two competing bacteriophage strains grown on agar plates, with a serial transfer of samples of the bacteriophage population to fresh host populations after each incubation cycle. The experiments included two incubation times and two transfer protocols that either maintained or disrupted the spatial structure of the viruses at each transfer. The same bacteriophage acted as the dominant competitor under both transfer protocols. A striking difference between the treatments is that the weak competitor was able to persist in the long‐incubation experiments but not in the short‐incubation experiments. Mathematical and experimental evidence suggest that coexistence is due to the appearance of resistant mutant host cells that provide a transient “spatiotemporal refuge” for the weaker competitor. Our mathematical model is individual based, captures the stochastic spatial dynamics down to the level of individual cells, and helps to explain the differences in behavior under the various experimental conditions.

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This item contains 28 references.

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