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Nectar research sheds light on ecological theory

Cells of <em>Metschnikowia gruessii</em>

Cells of Metschnikowia gruessii, one of four species of nectar-inhabiting yeasts that were used by researchers in the Tadashi Fukami Lab at Stanford University to study how species coexist.

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Different species usually coexist, whether itís big animals on the plains, bugs in a jungle or yeasts in flower nectar, but how this works is complicated. For example, a sticky drop of nectar clinging to the tip of a hummingbirdís beak can be transferred to the next flower the bird visits. With that subtle change, the microbes within that drop are now in a new environment, teeming with other microbes. This small example of species forced to coexist in the real world has helped researchers in the lab of Tadashi Fukami at Stanford University unravel the relative importance of two theories scientists have had about how species can live together.

A study published by the group found that a less popular theory that has to do with the way organisms respond and contribute to environmental fluctuations likely plays a bigger role than ecologists had thought, this according to the study of the nectar-dwelling yeast of Stanfordís Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. The research could influence how scientists model the effects of climate change on organisms.

"This particular experiment was motivated by basic curiosity about how species coexist," said Fukami, an associate professor of biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences. "We experimented with nectar-colonizing yeasts because we had gathered data about them in the wild, such as hummingbirds' visits, interactions with flowers, effects of resources. This way we can design lab experiments that have a clear natural context."

This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (grant DEB 17-37758).

Read more in the Stanford news story Stanford nectar research sheds light on ecological theory. (Date image taken: 2018; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Aug. 22, 2018)

Credit: Manpreet Dhami, Tadashi Fukami and Lydia-Marie Jouber
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