The ecological coherence of high bacterial taxonomic ranks
The species is a fundamental unit of biological organization, but its relevance for Bacteria and Archaea is still hotly debated. Even more controversial is whether the deeper branches of the ribosomal RNA-derived phylogenetic tree, such as the phyla, have ecological importance. Here, we discuss the ecological coherence of high bacterial taxa in the light of genome analyses and present examples of niche differentiation between deeply diverging groups in terrestrial and aquatic systems. The ecological relevance of high bacterial taxa has implications for bacterial taxonomy, evolution and ecology.