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Plenary Lecture 3: Simple Theory and the Microbial World

Presented by: 
T Curtis Newcastle University
Wednesday 10th September 2014 - 14:40 to 15:15
INI Seminar Room 1
Co-authors: Bill Sloan (Glasgow University), Dana Ofiteru (Newcastle University), Lise Ovreas (Bergen University), Joana Baptista (Newcastle University), Chris Quince (Glasgow University)

The microbial world is of astronomical dimensions and of profound practical importance. And yet, though astronomers and engineers rely heavily on quantitative theory, most microbial ecologists and associated practitioners do not. Those that do, are heavily influenced by classical ecological theory. However, most classical ecological theory is not “up to the job”. The inscrutability and practical importance of the microbial world means that prediction should be our aspiration. This imposes certain disciplines up on us. In particular, we should start as simply as possible, find and understand the parameters and what they can explain; and then move on. The simplest possible theory of community assembly in microbial communities is perhaps the work of Bill Sloan and his colleagues. The key parameters are the size of the community, the immigration rate and the size and make up of the metacommunity. The size of the community we often know. Finding the immigration par ameter yields useful insights about how communities form and change and the relative importance of immigration and evolution. The size and the nature of the metacommunity is less well understood, but its exploration hints at generic and useful rules in evolution that could be both intrinsically interesting and very important. However, we should look forward to a future in which mathematics has the stature and utility in microbial ecology, that it enjoys in physics. Then microbial ecology will done at the scale and with the rigour that the field merits.

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University of Cambridge Research Councils UK
    Clay Mathematics Institute London Mathematical Society NM Rothschild and Sons