The adaptive radiation of Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 populations in static liquid microcosms results in the appearance of the biofilm–forming Wrinkly Spreader. This adaptive mutant is able to colonise the high O2-rich region at the top of the liquid column established by the metabolic activity of earlier wild-type colonists, and by doing so, enjoys a significant fitness advantage over non-biofilm–forming competitors including the ancestral Pf. SBW25. Although the underlying molecular biology and evolutionary ecology of the Wrinkly Spreader is well understood, we have recently questioned the need for expensive biofilm–formation to colonise the air-liquid (A-L) interface, as O2-directed flagella-mediated swimming (aerotaxis) should be sufficient to maintain cells in this region. Our investigations show that swimming can overcome displacement by Brownian diffusion and microcurrents within the liquid column. However, it is not sufficient to explain the high levels of enrichment at the A-Linterface shown by Wrinkly Spreader cells. A comparison of the liquid surface tension of wild-type and Wrinkly Spreader cultures, supernatants, and washed cells, suggests that the Wrinkly Spreader produces a surface-active compound weakly associated with the cell which helps penetration of the A-L interface and allows cells to remain in the high-O2 region without further expenditure of energy. Our results suggest that this penetration is key to the following biofilm–formation which supports higher populations at the A-L interface and that this explains the adaptive advantage of the Wrinkly Spreader.

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