Successive range expansion promotes diversity and accelerates evolution in spatially structured microbial populations

ISME J. 2017 Sep;11(9):2112-2123. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2017.76. Epub 2017 May 23.


Successive range expansions occur within all domains of life, where one population expands first (primary expansion) and one or more secondary populations then follow (secondary expansion). In general, genetic drift reduces diversity during range expansion. However, it is not clear whether the same effect applies during successive range expansion, mainly because the secondary population must expand into space occupied by the primary population. Here we used an experimental microbial model system to show that, in contrast to primary range expansion, successive range expansion promotes local population diversity. Because of mechanical constraints imposed by the presence of the primary population, the secondary population forms fractal-like dendritic structures. This divides the advancing secondary population into many small sub-populations and promotes intermixing between the primary and secondary populations. We further developed a mathematical model to simulate the formation of dendritic structures in the secondary population during succession. By introducing mutations in the primary or dendritic secondary populations, we found that mutations are more likely to accumulate in the dendritic secondary populations. Our results thus show that successive range expansion can promote intermixing over the short term and increase genetic diversity over the long term. Our results therefore have potentially important implications for predicting the ecological processes and evolutionary trajectories of microbial communities.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Genetic Drift
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Models, Genetic
  • Mutation