The theory of games and microbe ecology
Journal article, 2019
Using game theory, we provide mathematical proof that if a species of asexually reproducing microbes is not characterized by maximum variability in competitive abilities among its individual organisms, then that species is vulnerable to replacement by competitors. Furthermore, we prove that such maximally variable species are neutral towards each other in competition for limited resources; they coexist. Our proof is constructive: given one species which does not possess maximum variability, we construct a second species with the same (or lower) mean competitive ability which can outcompete the first, in the sense that its expected value in competition is positive, whereas the expected value of the non-maximally variable species is negative. Our results point towards the mechanistic underpinnings for the frequent observations that (1) microbes are characterized by large intra-specific variability and that (2) the number of extant microbe species is very large.