Complex microbial ecosystems occupy the skin, mucosa and alimentary tract of all mammals, including humans. Recent advances have highlighted the tremendous diversity of these microbial communities and their importance to host physiology, but questions remain about the ecological processes that establish and maintain the microbiota throughout life. The prevailing view, that the gastrointestinal microbiota of adult humans is a climax community comprised of the superior competitors for a stable set of niches, does not account for all of the experimental data. We argue here that the unique history of each community and intrinsic temporal dynamics also influence the structure of human intestinal communities.
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