Farming and public goods production in Caenorhabditis elegans populations

TitleFarming and public goods production in Caenorhabditis elegans populations
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsThutupalli S, Uppaluri S, Constable GWA, Levin SA, Stone HA, Tarnita CE, Brangwynne CP
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The population dynamics of species arise from individual-level inter- and intraspecies interactions, driven by genetic and neurobehavioral factors. However, linking ecological and evolutionary dynamics to underlying mechanisms represents a major challenge, largely due to experimental intractability. Here, we study the population dynamics of a predator–prey system comprising the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans and bacteria Escherichia coli. We find that the worms engage in a form of primitive agriculture, driven by their foraging behavior, by redistributing their bacterial food source, which subsequently grows. Our findings have ecoevolutionary consequences that are broadly applicable not only to worm–bacterial dynamics but also for diverse situations such as the spread of epidemics, foraging behavior, seed dispersal, and the organisms’ engineering of their habitat.

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