Disentangling direct and indirect fitness effects of microbial dormancy

William C. Ratcliff, Mitchell Hoverman, Michael Travisano, R. Ford Denison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Disentangling individual selection from kin selection is one of the greatest challenges of evolutionary biology. Even solitary organisms that do not interact directly with conspecifics may interact indirectly with them through competition for resources. As a result, traits that appear to affect individual fitness alone can also modify the fitness of relatives nearby and thus may evolve partially through these cryptic indirect fitness effects. Here we develop a method to quantitatively separate direct and indirect fitness consequences when some microbes become dormant, while neighbors of the same genotype remain active. Dormant microbes typically survive stresses that kill metabolically active cells, but dormancy also has a social side effect, sparing resources that may be used by nondormant individuals for growth. In structured populations, spared resources may be preferentially consumed by nondormant clonemates, providing an indirect benefit. Without population structure, however, exploitation by a never-dormant competitor imposes an indirect fitness cost on dormant cells. Cryptic indirect fitness effects may play a significant role in the evolution of many ostensibly asocial traits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-156
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Cooperation
  • Indirect effects
  • Reproductive restraint
  • Social evolution
  • Spatial structure


Dive into the research topics of 'Disentangling direct and indirect fitness effects of microbial dormancy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this