Using ecological coexistence theory to understand antibiotic resistance and microbial competition

Andrew D. Letten, Alex R. Hall, Jonathan M. Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Tackling antibiotic resistance necessitates deep understanding of how resource competition within and between species modulates the fitness of resistant microbes. Recent advances in ecological coexistence theory offer a powerful framework to probe the mechanisms regulating intra- and interspecific competition, but the significance of this body of theory to the problem of antibiotic resistance has been largely overlooked. In this Perspective, we draw on emerging ecological theory to illustrate how changes in resource niche overlap can be equally important as changes in competitive ability for understanding costs of resistance and the persistence of resistant pathogens in microbial communities. We then show how different temporal patterns of resource and antibiotic supply, alongside trade-offs in competitive ability at high and low resource concentrations, can have diametrically opposing consequences for the coexistence and exclusion of resistant and susceptible strains. These insights highlight numerous opportunities for innovative experimental and theoretical research into the ecological dimensions of antibiotic resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-441
Number of pages11
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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