Determining the Effects of a Spatially Heterogeneous Selection Pressure on Bacterial Population Structure at the Sub-millimetre Scale

Frances R. Slater, Kenneth D. Bruce, Richard J. Ellis, Andrew K. Lilley, Sarah L. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


A key interest of microbial ecology is to understand the role of environmental heterogeneity in shaping bacterial diversity and fitness. However, quantifying relevant selection pressures and their effects is challenging due to the number of parameters that must be considered and the multiple scales over which they act. In the current study, a model system was employed to investigate the effects of a spatially heterogeneous mercuric ion (Hg2+) selection pressure on a population comprising Hg-sensitive and Hg-resistant pseudornonads. The Hg-sensitive bacteria were Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25::rfp and Hg-resistant bacteria were P fluorescens SBW25 carrying a gfp-labelled, Hg resistance plasmid. In the absence of Hg, the plasmid confers a considerable fitness cost on the host, with mu(max) for plasmid-carrying cells relative to plasmid-free cells of only 0.66. Two image analysis techniques were developed to investigate the structure that developed in biofilms about foci of Fig (cellulose fibres imbued with HgCl2). Both techniques indicated selection for the resistant phenotype occurred only in small areas of approximately 178-353 mu m (manually defined contour region analysis) or 275-350 mu m (daime analysis) from foci. Hg also elicited toxic effects that reduced the growth of both Hg-sensitive and Hg-resistant bacteria up to 250 mu m from foci. Selection for the Hg resistance phenotype was therefore highly localised when Hg was spatially heterogeneous. As such, for this model system, we define here the spatial scale over which selection operates. The ability to quantify changes in the strength of selection for particular phenotypes over sub-millimetre scales is useful for understanding the scale over which environmental variables affect bacterial populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)873 - 884
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


Dive into the research topics of 'Determining the Effects of a Spatially Heterogeneous Selection Pressure on Bacterial Population Structure at the Sub-millimetre Scale'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this