Biodiversity @ FAO

Microbes and Invertebrates

Micro-organisms and invertebrates together are the most numerous group of species on Earth. Invertebrates are animals without a backbone. They account for more than 95% of all animals and comprise many subgroups of diverse species ranging from tiny insects to giant squid. Micro-organisms are too small to be seen by the human eye but though very small they are very important. Food and agriculture production depends on this “hidden” biodiversity.

Micro-organisms establish mutually beneficial symbiosis with the roots of agricultural plants and some fungi, or with ruminant livestock, like cows, sheep or goats, living in their guts. Also, micro-organisms provide beneficial services in food processing, for example fermentation by yeasts, bacteria or fungi; and invertebrates, such as bees, butterflies and other insects, are important to pollinate our fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, both micro-organisms and invertebrates play major roles as bio-control agents, and are indispensable in the degradation and recycling of organic matter in soils.

In addition to beneficial organisms, micro-organisms and invertebrates can also act as plant and animal pests and diseases. In this case, increasing the understanding of these harmful species, including their genetic variability, is critical, in order to find means to prevent and cure the diseases they cause.

Micro-organisms and invertebrates provide essential ecosystem services and are essential in many food processing applications; however, they also can cause diseases that impact plant, animals and humans.

FAO’s work in the field of micro-organisms and many species of invertebrates focuses on conservation and sustainable use of pollinators, soil organisms, or their use as biological control through integrated pest management (IPM). FAO’s work also includes preventing the spread of pests and diseases caused by micro-organisms and invertebrates.

Through FAO’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, member countries are given a platform to plan FAO’s future work on micro-organisms and invertebrates cross-sectorially, including the variety of functions and services they provide for sustainable agriculture and food production.

Photo by Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley