Connecting, communicating, creating
Experimental microbial ecology (EME) is about using microbial communities to further our understanding of ecological principles. A good example is how Gause's experiments with Paramecium contributed to the development of coexistence theory. Or how Luckinbill's experiments with Paramecium and Didinium advanced understanding of predator-prey dynamics. More recently, EME have contributed to research about individual behaviour, interactions among individuals, predicting extinctions, effects of environmental change on community and ecosystem dynamics, spatial ecology, and many other areas of ecology.
In a short experiment (a few weeks) there can be many (tens to hundreds) of generations, such that changes in phenotypes are observed. Understanding the causes and consequences of these changes, including feedbacks between ecological and evolution, is a very active area of EME research.
Processes such a reproduction, consumption, death, and growth are common to the necessarily artificial microbial communities used in EME laboratories, and natural communities found in puddles, ponds, and lakes. Many of the species are similar, and environmental conditions can be similar also. However, the main focus of EME is to test and further fundamental understanding. Research about natural communities, such as protists in streams in Iceland, or in treeholes, is, of course, essential for understanding natural communities. Experiments may also play an important part of such studies.