The legacy of the past: effects of historical processes on microbial metacommunities

Distinguishing the importance of different community assembly mechanisms is an emerging topic in microbial ecology and much focus has been placed in recent years on investigating how contemporary environmental conditions, dispersal and stochastic processes influence the spatial turnover of communities. However, historical events, such as past environmental conditions or dispersal events, can be important as well.

We provide a short summary of the processes that can lead to so-called legacy effects, where past biotic or abiotic factors influence the composition of present-day communities. Priority effects, which arise if early colonizers gain advantage over later-arriving species, can lead to persistent legacy effects. In contrast, time-lags in environmental selection can lead to transient legacy effects. Dispersal rates as well as factors that influence the adaptability of species to changing environmental conditions should be important factors that determine the relative importance of contemporary selection versus historical processes and whether legacy effects are likely to be permanent or temporary. Working with microbial communities offers the advantage of feasible time series studies and multi-generation experiments, and can therefore make important contributions to a novel systematic framework on how historical processes shape complex metacommunities in nature.

Reference: Vass, M.; Langenheder, S.: The legacy of the past: effects of historical processes on microbial metacommunities. Aquat Microb Ecol 79: 13–19, 2017. (open access)