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Subpopulations and Stability in Microbial Communities

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In microbial communities, each species has multiple, distinct phenotypes, but studies of ecological stability have largely ignored this subpopulation structure. Here, we show that simple models with subpopulation structure and their averages without subpopulations generically give contradictory linear stability results. We analyse the effect of phenotypic switching in detail in the asymptotic limit of the bacterial persister phenotype and partly overturn classical stability paradigms: abundant phenotypic variation is linearly destabilising but, surprisingly, a rare phenotype has a stabilising effect. Finally, we extend these results by showing numerically how phenotypic variation modifies the stability of the system to large perturbations such as antibiotic treatments.

This talk is part of the DAMTP BioLunch series.

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