This satellite image taken near the island of Heligoland in the German Bight, southern North Sea, shows bacteria (green) devouring the sweet contents of algal cells (blue).
Algal sugars given off when algae dies are one of the main food sources for heterotrophic marine bacteria. But it is far from a feeding frenzy.
Scientists from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology have been watching the bacterial response to spring algal blooms in the area for more than a decade, and have discovered that closely related but distinct clades of bacteria have distinct sugar diets and visit the algal blooms at different times.
They thus share forgo direct competition by partitioning available resources.
Burak Avci and colleagues liken it to the development of the rather more famous Galápagos finches, which developed distinct beak sizes and shapes and to suit different food sources.
“One of the fundamental questions in microbial ecology is which factors shape the composition of a given microbial community,” Avci says.
“Studies [such] as this one advance our understanding of the principles that govern microbial community composition in such dynamic environments.”
The findings are published in the Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology.