A microbe's growth rate helps to set its ecological success and its contribution to food web dynamics and biogeochemical processes. Growth rates at the community level are constrained by biomass and trophic interactions among bacteria, phytoplankton, and their grazers. Phytoplankton growth rates are approximately 1 d−1, whereas most heterotrophic bacteria grow slowly, close to 0.1 d−1; only a few taxa can grow ten times as fast. Data from 16S rRNA and other approaches are used to speculate about the growth rate and the life history strategy of SAR11, the most abundant clade of heterotrophic bacteria in the oceans. These strategies are also explored using genomic data. Although the methods and data are imperfect, the available data can be used to set limits on growth rates and thus on the timescale for changes in the composition and structure of microbial communities.


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