Is Global Microbial Biodiversity Increasing, Decreasing, or Staying the Same?

Citation: Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 2021

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Animal and plant biodiversity is decreasing. In contrast, the global direction and the pace of change in microbial, including viral, biodiversity is unknown. Important niches for microbial diversity occur in highly specific associations with plants and animals, and these niches are lost as hosts become extinct. The taxonomic diversity of human gut bacteria is reported to be decreasing. On the other hand, SARS-CoV-2 variation is increasing. Where microbes are concerned, Darwin’s “tangled bank” of interdependent organisms may be composed mostly of other microbes. There is the likelihood that as some classes of microbes become extinct, others evolve and diversify. A better handle on all processes that affect microbial biodiversity and their net balance is needed. Lack of insight into the dynamics of evolution of microbial biodiversity is arguably the single most profound and consequential unknown with regard to human knowledge of the biosphere. If some or all parts of microbial diversity are relentlessly increasing, then survey approaches may be too slow to ever catch up. New approaches, including single-molecule or single-cell sequencing in populations, as well as focused attention on modulators and vectors of vertical and horizontal evolution may offer more direct insights into some aspects of the pace of microbial evolution.

Areas of Research: The Microbial Environment