Biogeographic patterns in ocean microbes emerge in a neutral agent-based model

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Science  12 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6202, pp. 1346-1349
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254421

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Patterns of life in the ocean wave

The open ocean is not uniform. The seas teem with unseen life that has evolved distinctive patterns of species distribution, much as the land-bound world contains a spectrum of biological provinces. Taking data from genome studies, Hellweger et al. devised a model showing how marine bacteria diversified throughout the world's oceans into stable geographic provinces independently of natural selection (see the Perspective by Giovannoni and Nemergut). All that is needed to create these distributions are mutations and ocean currents.

Science, this issue p. 1346; see also p. 1246


A key question in ecology and evolution is the relative role of natural selection and neutral evolution in producing biogeographic patterns. We quantify the role of neutral processes by simulating division, mutation, and death of 100,000 individual marine bacteria cells with full 1 million–base-pair genomes in a global surface ocean circulation model. The model is run for up to 100,000 years and output is analyzed using BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool) alignment and metagenomics fragment recruitment. Simulations show the production and maintenance of biogeographic patterns, characterized by distinct provinces subject to mixing and periodic takeovers by neighbors (coalescence), after which neutral evolution reestablishes the province and the patterns reorganize. The emergent patterns are substantial (e.g., down to 99.5% DNA identity between North and Central Pacific provinces) and suggest that microbes evolve faster than ocean currents can disperse them. This approach can also be used to explore environmental selection.

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