How ecological diversity is maintained and distributed within populations is a longstanding question in microbial ecology. In the thermophilic cyanobacterium Synechococcus B′, high observed levels of recombination are predicted to maintain ecological variation despite the simultaneous action of diverse selective pressures on different regions of the genome. To investigate ecological diversity in these bacteria, we directly isolated laboratory strains of Synechococcus B′ from samples collected along the thermal gradients of two geothermal environments in Yellowstone National Park. Extensive recombination was evident for a multi-locus sequence data set, and, consequently, our sample did not exhibit the sequence clustering expected for distinct ecotypes evolving by periodic clonal selection. Evidence for local selective sweeps at specific loci suggests that sweeps may be common but that recombination is effective for maintaining diversity of unlinked genomic regions. Thermal performance for strain growth was positively associated with the temperature of the environment, indicating that Synechococcus B′ populations consist of locally adapted ecological specialists that occupy specific thermal niches. Because this ecological differentiation is observed despite the absence of dispersal barriers among sites, we conclude that these bacteria may freely exchange much of the genome but that barriers to gene flow exist for loci under direct temperature selection.
- Selective sweep