2007 Small Matters: Microbes and Their Role in Conservation
Microscopic organisms – including viruses, bacteria, archaea, and single-celled eukaryotic organisms – comprise the vast majority of life on the planet, yet startlingly little is known about their true diversity and the multitudinous roles they play in the ecosphere. The knowledge that we do have tends to come from either those organisms that can be cultured in the laboratory or those that make us or other organisms sick. However, the revolution of using DNA sequences to discover and describe microbial diversity has drastically altered our view of the microbial world and its players. Now, new biochemical processes, including new forms of photosynthesis and even electricity-generating bacteria are being discovered as culture-independent and broader explorations into new habitats are performed. Yet at the same time that we begin to uncover hidden potential benefits or micro-organisms, the news is also replete with stories of so-called emergent diseases that threaten human and other organisms on the planet.
Small Matters: Microbes and Their Role in Conservation brought together scientists from the traditionally disparate fields or microbiology and conservation, including biogeochemists, marine microbiologists, disease ecologists, and microbial systemists, as well as conservation practitioners, wildlife managers, policy makers educators, students, and the general public to explore this intersection of two fields that, until now, had not been considered in depth. Several broad questions were addressed including: How much microbial diversity is there on the planet? How does this diversity affect other organisms, both positively and negatively? How should conservation practices take microbial life into account?
The symposium was sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, with support from the National Science Foundation, the Mack Lipkin Man and Nature Series, and the Joseph and Joan Cullman Conservation Foundation, Inc. Additional support was provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society.