Department: Microbiology & Immunology
University System: Montana State University - Bozeman
The distribution of microorganisms and the functions that they catalyze on Earth today is rooted, at least in part, to the numerous adaptations to occupy discrete ecological niches (e.g., multiplicity of environmental factors characterizing a microenvironment) that have played out over evolutionary time. Such responses are recorded in the extant distributional pattern of organisms, as well as the genetic record of those organisms. This is a consequence of the tendency of organisms to inherit their ecological predilections from their ancestors, a phenomenon that manifests in a positive relationship between the ecological relatedness of organisms and their evolutionary relatedness (niche conservatism). The interaction between microorganisms and the environment is mediated at the molecular scale by numerous proteins and enzymes (e.g., physiological traits or phenotype) that are encoded in the genome of individual organisms. Recent advances in, geochemistry, molecular biology, and ecological theory enable these relationships to be quantified at a level of resolution that facilitates the prediction of biological data (e.g., genomic composition and diversity) using geochemical data (e.g., chemical, physical, isotopic) and vice versa. Understanding the inextricable link between biology and the environment over spatial environmental gradients lies at the core of evolutionary ecology research and serves as a foundation for predicting the temporal response of communities to environmental stress or perturbation at the level of individual organisms or community function.