Scientists call for increased awareness for microbes and climate change

More than 30 microbiologists from around the world have warned that microbes are both impacted by climate change and can influence it. The scientists are calling for microbes to be included in climate change research and to increase the use of research, including innovative technologies and for improved education in classrooms.

Professor Rick Cavicchioli, a microbiologist at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at UNSW Sydney, is leading the global effort. He says that microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses, are lifeforms rarely mentioned on conversation websites. Despite being rarely mentioned, they support the existence of all higher lifeforms and are important in regulating climate change he says.

Despite the importance of microorganisms, they are rarely considered in climate change studies and when regulating climate change. Cavicchioli says that microbes are the "unseen majority" of lifeforms on Earth and play critical functions in animal and human health, agriculture, global food web, and industry. One example he gives is that in the Census of Marine Life estimates are that 90% of the ocean's total biomass is microbial.

He also notes that marine lifeforms called phytoplankton take light energy from the sun and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as much as plants. Those tiny organisms are the beginning of the food web in the oceans that feed krill populations, that feed fish, sea birds, and large mammals like whales.

Sea algae thrive in so-called sea ice "houses," and global warming trends are melting sea ice, having a downstream effect on sea ice algae, diminishing the ocean food web. Work is being done on developing resources that will be made available to teachers to educate students on the importance of microbes. The scientists point out that microbes are also critical to terrestrial environments, agriculture, and disease.