Advancing the case for microbial conservation

Charles S. Cockella1 c1 and Harriet L. Jonesa2

a1 CEPSAR, Geomicrobiology, Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK.

a2 World Land Trust, Halesworth, and School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.


The majority of the biomass and biodiversity of life on the Earth is accounted for by microbes. They play pivotal roles in biogeochemical cycles and harbour novel metabolites that have industrial uses. For these reasons the conservation of microbial ecosystems, communities and even specific taxa should be a high priority. We review the reasons for including microorganisms in conservation agenda. We discuss some of the complications in this endeavour, including the unresolved argument about whether microorganisms have intrinsic value, which influences some of the non-instrumental motivations for their conservation and, from a more pragmatic perspective, exactly what it is that we seek to conserve (microorganisms, their habitats or their gene pools). Despite complications, priorities can be defined for microbial conservation and we provide practical examples of such priorities.

(Received July 06 2008)

(Reviewed October 23 2008)

(Accepted December 13 2008)


c1 CEPSAR, Geomicrobiology, Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK. E-mail c.s.cockell@open.ac.ut