Microbial Ecology

Ecology is the scientific discipline focused on the study of ecological systems and the living and non-living processes that support them.


Microbial ecology is a sub-discipline of ecology focused on microorganisms (that is, such microbes as bacteria, viruses, some algae and protozoa, and prions), their life cycles, niches and habitats. Due to the substantial numbers of microorganisms on Earth, these small organisms exercise mind-boggling influences, effects and impacts on other organisms (including humankind) and on the ecological systems they inhabit


Microbial ecology is central to our understanding of human, plant and animal disease and well-being as well as the condition and functioning of all ecological systems.

  • Microbial life in undersea volcanoes Featured News Article Microbial life in undersea volcanoes Microbial life in undersea volcanoes

    Many of the lifeforms inhabiting the Earth live in sediments and rocks. The research reported here provides the first detailed data on methane-exhaling microbes that live deep in... More »

  • Atlantic hydrothermal vent life Featured News Article Atlantic hydrothermal vent life Atlantic hydrothermal vent life

    Explorers on NOAA expedition discover chemosynthetic shrimp, tubeworms together for first time at hydrothermal vent, also first live vent tubeworms seen in Atlantic waters... More »

  • Antimicrobial resistance to drugs Featured Article Antimicrobial resistance to drugs Antimicrobial resistance to drugs

    Antimicrobial resistance is the ability of microbes, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi, to grow in the presence of a chemical (drug) that would normally kill... More »

  • Climate Adaptation of Rice Featured Article Climate Adaptation of Rice Climate Adaptation of Rice

    Climate Adaptation of Rice Symbiogenics: A New Strategy for Reducing Climate Impacts on Plants Rice–which provides nearly half the daily calories for the... More »

  • Combating Hopping Pests Featured Article Combating Hopping Pests Combating Hopping Pests

    The Mormon cricket is a voracious feeder that wipes out acres of grasses and field crops in no time. When it’s young, it grows so fast that its immune system cannot... More »

  • Marine microbes Featured Article Marine microbes Marine microbes

    The term 'Marine microbes' encompasses all microscopic organisms generally found in saltwater. Most micro-organisms are acellular and fall into the major categories of... More »

  • Arctic marine environments Featured Article Arctic marine environments Arctic marine environments

    This is Section 10.2.1 of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Lead Author: Michael B. Usher; Contributing Authors:Terry V. Callaghan, Grant Gilchrist, Bill Heal, Glenn P.... More »

Recently Updated
Combating Hopping Pests Last Updated on 2015-02-28 18:55:12 The Mormon cricket is a voracious feeder that wipes out acres of grasses and field crops in no time. When it’s young, it grows so fast that its immune system cannot keep up. ARS scientists are finding that this may be the best time to use biocontrol fungi to target the insect pest.  New Hopes for Combating Hopping Pests For many Americans, summertime means warm, sunny days spent by the pool or exploring the country and the world. But for farmers, ranchers, scientists, and state pest control organizations in the western half of the country, summer also means a chance of infestations of hopping pests, particularly grasshoppers and Mormon crickets. Each adult female grasshopper can lay multiple egg pods—each containing many eggs—in one summer, which could greatly increase the population the next summer, after the eggs hatch. This compounding effect could lead... More »
Fungi Last Updated on 2015-02-15 18:00:24 The word fungus usually invokes images of mushrooms and toadstools. Although mushrooms are fungi, the forms which a fungus may take are varied. There are over 100,000 species of described fungi and probably over 200,000 undescribed. Most fungi are terrestrial, but they can be found in every habitat worldwide, including marine (about 500 species) and freshwater environments. Fungi are nonmotile, filamentous eukaryotes that lack plastids and photosynthetic pigments. The majority of fungi are saprophytes; they obtain nutrients from dead organic matter. Other fungi survive as parasitic decomposers, absorbing their food, in solution, through their cell walls. Most fungi live on the substrate upon which they feed. Numerous hyphae penetrate the wood, cheese, soil, or flesh in which they are growing. The hyphae secrete digestive enzymes that break down the substrate, enabling the fungus to... More »
Gut reaction: environmental effects on the human microbiota Last Updated on 2014-11-29 21:03:07 This article, written by Melissa Lee Phillips, appeared first in Environmental Health Perspectives—the peer-reviewed, open access journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The article is a verbatim version of the original and is not available for edits or additions by Encyclopedia of Earth editors or authors. Companion articles on the same topic that are editable may exist within the Encyclopedia of Earth. Living with each of us—on our skin, in our mucosa, and in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract—are microorganisms whose numbers dwarf the number of our own cells and genes. Although some of these microbes are pathogens, most are harmless or even beneficial. The body’s assortment of microorganisms, collectively called the microbiota, is similar to an organ in that it performs functions essential for our survival. Some microbes produce... More »
Water pollution Last Updated on 2014-11-17 12:18:45 Water pollution is the contamination of natural water bodies by chemical, physical, radioactive or pathogenic microbial substances. Adverse alteration of water quality presently produces large scale illness and deaths, accounting for approximately 50 million deaths per year worldwide, most of these deaths occurring in Africa and Asia. In China, for example, about 75 percent of the population (or 1.1 billion people) are without access to unpolluted drinking water, according to China's own standards.[1] Widespread consequences of water pollution upon ecosystems include species mortality, biodiversity reduction and loss of ecosystem services. Some consider that water pollution may occur from natural causes such as sedimentation from severe rainfall events; however, natural causes, including volcanic eruptions and algae blooms from natural causes constitute a minute amount of the... More »
Bacteria Last Updated on 2014-10-12 18:54:28 Bacteria are any of a very large group of single-celled microorganisms that display a wide range of metabolic types, geometric shapes and environmental habitats—and niches—of occurrence.  Normally only several micrometers in length, bacteria assume the form of  spheres, rods, spirals and other shapes. Bacteria are found in a very broad gamut of habitats; for example, bacterial extremophiles that thrive in such places as hot springs, arctic environments, radioactive waste, deep sea oil seeps, deep Earth crustal environments, hypersaline ponds and within other living organisms. There are approximately 50 million bacterial organisms in a single gram of typical surface soil. The worldwide bacterial biomass exceeds that of all plants and animals on Earth. However, the majority of bacteria have not yet been characterised, Bacteria are members of the prokaryote... More »