Geology & Geophysics AGU News

How Do Microbial Ecosystems and Climate Change Interact?

The American Society for Microbiology and the American Geophysical Union offer insights from a transdisciplinary collaboration of their scientists regarding this question and areas for further study.


Microorganisms have been changing the climate and have been changed by the climate throughout most of Earth’s past. A new joint report, “Microbes and Climate Change,” from the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and the American Geophysical Union (AGU), explores these dynamics and provides insights for better understanding and future work.

The report is the output of a 1-day research colloquium jointly sponsored by ASM and AGU. It highlights how microorganisms respond, adapt, and evolve in their surroundings at higher rates than most other organisms. This accelerated pace allows scientists to study the effects of climate change on microbes to understand and hopefully predict the future effects of climate change on all forms of life.

The 3 March 2016 colloquium brought together experts from multiple scientific disciplines to discuss the current understanding of microbes and our changing climate, as well as gaps and priorities for future study. Thirty invited scientists of various backgrounds, about half from each of the two scientific societies, participated in the meeting and coauthored the report. Colloquium steering committee members Stanley Maloy, Mary Ann Moran, Margaret Mulholland, Heidi Sosik, and John Spear facilitated the work of the authoring committee.

The 24-page report provides a primer on biogeochemical processes and climate change, then addresses impacts in three areas: terrestrial polar regions; soil, agriculture, and freshwater; and oceans. The report also explores ecological communities of microogranisms (i.e., microbiomes), effects of climate change on these communities, and how they adapt. The report is written for public audiences, including policy makers, educators, and science-interested students, as well as scientists.

“There is much more to learn and understand about how shifts in the Earth’s climate affect complex and interconnected microbial functions and the biogeochemical cycles they mediate,” said Eric Davidson, AGU President and a biogeochemist. “The information in this joint report lays out the current understanding of microbial ecosystem feedbacks that accelerate or mitigate climate change, as well as gaps and priorities for future study. This collaborative effort between ASM and AGU is a model for future joint society activities.”

—Billy M. Williams (email: [email protected]), Science Director, AGU

Citation: Williams, B. M. (2017), How do microbial ecosystems and climate change interact?, Eos, 98, Published on 18 April 2017.
Text © 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.