Strongly deterministic population dynamics in closed microbial communities

Zak Frentz, Seppe Kuehn, Stanislas Leibler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biological systems are influenced by random processes at all scales, including molecular, demographic, and behavioral fluctuations, as well as by their interactions with a fluctuating environment. We previously established microbial closed ecosystems (CES) as model systems for studying the role of random events and the emergent statistical laws governing population dynamics. Here, we present long-term measurements of population dynamics using replicate digital holographic microscopes that maintain CES under precisely controlled external conditions while automatically measuring abundances of three microbial species via single-cell imaging. With this system, we measure spatiotemporal population dynamics in more than 60 replicate CES over periods of months. In contrast to previous studies, we observe strongly deterministic population dynamics in replicate systems. Furthermore, we show that previously discovered statistical structure in abundance fluctuations across replicate CES is driven by variation in external conditions, such as illumination. In particular, we confirm the existence of stable ecomodes governing the correlations in population abundances of three species. The observation of strongly deterministic dynamics, together with stable structure of correlations in response to external perturbations, points towards a possibility of simple macroscopic laws governing microbial systems despite numerous stochastic events present on microscopic levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number041014
JournalPhysical Review X
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015


  • Biological physics
  • Statistical physics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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