Microbes that support all life are being affected by climate change

July 2, 2019

More than 30 microbiologists signed a statement last week warning about risks to microbes, which are at the bottom of the food chain and are regulators of a number of critical processes, such as oxygen production and greenhouse gas breakdown.

The statement, which was released in Nature Reviews Microbiology, explained that microbes are “the life support system of the biosphere” and that all other organisms rely on them. This means that changes in their diversity, abundance or ability to function have grave consequences for the rest of the environment.

Until now, microbes have been overlooked in the continued understanding of human-caused climate change. The scientists say it is important to understand how climate change affects these microorganisms and how they affect climate change in return.

Indiana University professor Jay Lennon is the director of the Lennon Lab at IU, which studies microbial biodiversity in the environment. The lab aims to understand how microbial diversity affects ecosystem functioning.

Lennon explained that, collectively, microbes are resilient and will be around long after humans are gone. Though microbes currently ensure the habitability of Earth for humans and other species, he warns it doesn’t have to be that way.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about how microbes will respond to global change and whether they will buffer or exacerbate projected undesirable consequences,” he said.

Microbes that support all life are being affected by climate change