Predation strategies of the bacterium Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus result in overexploitation and bottlenecks

J. Kimberley Summers, Jan-Ulrich Kreft

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


With increasing antimicrobial resistance, alternatives for treating infections or removing resistant bacteria are urgently needed, such as the bacterial predator Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus or bacteriophage. Therefore, we need to better understand microbial predator-prey dynamics. We developed mass-action mathematical models of predation for chemostats, which capture the low substrate concentration and slow growth typical for intended application areas of the predators such as wastewater treatment, aquaculture or the gut. Our model predicted that predator survival required a minimal prey size, explaining why Bdellovibrio is much smaller than its prey. A too good predator (attack rate too high, mortality too low) overexploited its prey leading to extinction (tragedy of the commons). Surprisingly, a predator taking longer to produce more offspring outcompeted a predator producing fewer offspring more rapidly (rate versus yield trade-off). Predation was only efficient in a narrow region around optimal parameters. Moreover, extreme oscillations under a wide range of conditions led to severe bottlenecks. A bacteriophage outcompeted Bdellovibrio due to its higher burst size and faster life cycle. Together, results suggest that Bdellovibrio would struggle to survive on a single prey, explaining why it must be a generalist predator and suggesting it is better suited than phage to environments with multiple prey.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2019


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