Quantifying the complexities of Saccharomyces cerevisiae's ecosystem engineering via fermentation

Ecology. 2008 Aug;89(8):2077-82. doi: 10.1890/07-2060.1.


The theory of niche construction suggests that organisms may engineer environments via their activities. Despite the potential of this phenomenon being realized by Darwin, the capability of niche construction to generally unite ecological and evolutionary biology has never been empirically quantified. Here I quantify the fitness effects of Saccharomyces cerevisiae's ecosystem engineering in a natural ferment in order to understand the interaction between ecological and evolutionary processes. I show that S. cerevisiae eventually dominates in fruit niches, where it is naturally initially rare, by modifying the environment through fermentation (the Crabtree effect) in ways which extend beyond just considering ethanol production. These data show that an additional cause of S. cerevisiae's competitive advantage over the other yeasts in the community is due to the production of heat via fermentation. Even though fermentation is less energetically efficient than respiration, it seems that this trait has been selected for because its net effect provides roughly a 7% fitness advantage over the other members of the community. These data provide an elegant example of niche construction because this trait clearly modifies the environment and therefore the selection pressures to which S. cerevisiae, and other organisms that access the fruit resource, including humans, are exposed to.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Beverages / microbiology
  • Biological Evolution
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Ecosystem*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Ethanol / metabolism
  • Fermentation / physiology*
  • Fruit / metabolism
  • Fruit / microbiology
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / physiology*
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors
  • Vitis / metabolism
  • Vitis / microbiology*


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Ethanol