Trait dimensions in bacteria and archaea compared to vascular plants

Mark Westoby*, Michael R. Gillings, Joshua S. Madin, Daniel A. Nielsen, Ian T. Paulsen, Sasha G. Tetu

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    20 Citations (Scopus)


    Bacteria and archaea have very different ecology compared to plants. One similarity, though, is that much discussion of their ecological strategies has invoked concepts such as oligotrophy or stress tolerance. For plants, so-called ‘trait ecology’—strategy description reframed along measurable trait dimensions—has made global syntheses possible. Among widely measured trait dimensions for bacteria and archaea three main axes are evident. Maximum growth rate in association with rRNA operon copy number expresses a rate-yield trade-off that is analogous to the acquisitive–conservative spectrum in plants, though underpinned by different trade-offs. Genome size in association with signal transduction expresses versatility. Cell size has influence on diffusive uptake and on relative wall costs. These trait dimensions, and potentially others, offer promise for interpreting ecology. At the same time, there are very substantial differences from plant trait ecology. Traits and their underpinning trade-offs are different. Also, bacteria and archaea use a variety of different substrates. Bacterial strategies can be viewed both through the facet of substrate-use pathways, and also through the facet of quantitative traits such as maximum growth rate. Preliminary evidence shows the quantitative traits vary widely within substrate-use pathways. This indicates they convey information complementary to substrate use.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1487-1504
    Number of pages18
    JournalEcology Letters
    Issue number7
    Early online date24 Apr 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


    • archaea
    • bacteria
    • cell radial diameter
    • ecological strategies
    • genome size
    • maximum growth rate
    • plants
    • rRNA operon copy number
    • signal transduction proteins
    • trait ecology


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