Predictive genomic traits for bacterial growth in culture versus actual growth in soil
Relationships between microbial genes and performance are often evaluated in the laboratory in pure cultures, with little validation in nature. Here, we show that genomic traits related to laboratory measurements of maximum growth potential failed to predict the growth rates of bacteria in unamended soil, but successfully predicted growth responses to resource pulses: growth increased with 16S rRNA gene copy number and declined with genome size after substrate addition to soils, responses that were repeated in four different ecosystems. Genome size best predicted growth rate in response to addition of glucose alone; adding ammonium with glucose weakened the relationship, and the relationship was absent in nutrient-replete pure cultures, consistent with the idea that reduced genome size is a mechanism of nutrient conservation. Our findings demonstrate that genomic traits of soil bacteria can map to their ecological performance in nature, but the mapping is poor under native soil conditions, where genomic traits related to stress tolerance may prove more predictive. These results remind that phenotype depends on environmental context, underscoring the importance of verifying proposed schemes of trait-based strategies through direct measurement of performance in nature, an important and currently missing foundation for translating microbial processes from genes to ecosystems.