Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



Front. Microbiol. 6:1298.


Copyright © 2015 Song, Renslow, Fredrickson and Lindemann.

Open access

doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.01298


Many definitions of resilience have been proffered for natural and engineered ecosystems, but a conceptual consensus on resilience in microbial communities is still lacking. We argue that the disconnect largely results from the wide variance in microbial community complexity, which range from compositionally simple synthetic consortia to complex natural communities, and divergence between the typical practical outcomes emphasized by ecologists and engineers. Viewing microbial communities as elasto-plastic systems that undergo both recoverable and unrecoverable transitions, we argue that this gap between the engineering and ecological definitions of resilience stems from their respective emphases on elastic and plastic deformation, respectively. We propose that the two concepts may be fundamentally united around the resilience of function rather than state in microbial communities and the regularity in the relationship between environmental variation and a community's functional response. Furthermore, we posit that functional resilience is an intrinsic property of microbial communities and suggest that state changes in response to environmental variation may be a key mechanism driving functional resilience in microbial communities.