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Healthy & Biologically Diverse Seas Evidence Group Technical Report Series: Evaluation and gap analysis of current and potential indicators for Microbes 2010

Marine JNCC Publications 978-1-86107-621-2 Habitats Marine Monitoring


The combination of the sheer abundance of microbes (defined here as members within the bacterial, archeal and viral kingdoms) in the marine environment, the biological reliance of higher trophic organisms on the extensive networks of microbial interactions and vice versa, and the relatively rapid reproduction rates within this biological group makes them highly sensitive to anthropogenic pressures. Moreover, micorbes arguably make up the most important and extraordinarily diverse form of life on our planet.

In the marine environment microbes exist in complex, interdependent food webs with the rest of the oceanic biosphere. They exploit a bewildering array of niches within the ocean and can either be generalists or specialists. Currently, routine monitoring of microbes within the marine context is limited to microbial contaminant and human pathogen detection. Many branches of government and intergovernmental agencies have historically not been required to monitor microbial communities and their contribution to biodiversity or ecosystem functioning.

The overwhelming conclusion from this review is that microbes can indeed be used as indicators of state changes and impacts, together with ecosystem structure and function. However, significant gaps in our knowledge still exist preventing an immediate implementation of a holistic microbial monitoring programme. The major limitation is the absence of field trials and historical records fundamental to validating and evaluating the technology and effects of our changing environment, respectively. The inclusion of consistent monitoring of microbial populations is nonetheless warranted as these indicators can provide a rapid real time assessment of the effects of anthropogenic pressures such as organic pollution, and can provide an invaluable health check of ecosystem state and function in the marine environment

As our understanding of microbial diversity increases we will augment the role of these complex communities in structuring and functioning of the whole marine environment. With continued research and data validation we may in future be able to produce specific microbial indicator tools which can detect small-scale change in environmental status. It is clear from the gap analyses undertaken here that microbial communities respond to a variety of human pressures on the marine environment. When these specific responses have been measured, modelled and understood, microbial indicators will provide a real time assessment tool kit which is able to detect change that can be attributed to specific pressures. The potential benefits associated with the development and implementation of microbial indicator monitoring is significant; however, it will require substantial investment into research and development along with indicator testing and validation.

Accompanying the report are a series of Excel spreadsheets:

  • Annex 1: Microbes report.
  • Annex 2: Pressures report.
  • Annex 3: Ecosystem structure function report.

Resource type Publication

Topic category Oceans

Reference date 2010··

Schoeder, D. C. 2010. Healthy & Biologically Diverse Seas Evidence Group Technical Report Series: Evaluation and gap analysis of current and potential indicators for Microbes

As part of the HBDSEG programme of work, a series of reviews of environmental indicators was undertaken, which have been published as part of the HBDSEG Technical Report Series

Responsible organisation
Communications, JNCC author

Limitations on public access No limitations

Use constraints Available under the Open Government Licence 3.0

Metadata date 2020·05·18

Metadata point of contact
Communications, JNCC

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