Researchers call this the “hidden” biodiversity, an array of species so numerous it is incalculable. These are the micro-organisms: the yeasts, bacteria and fungi, only visible under microscopes; and the invertebrates: the insects, spiders and earthworms, all of which are invaluable contributors to the ecosystems on which food production depends. They pollinate crops and trees, they recycle nutrients in soils, they ferment bread and cheese, help animals digest otherwise indigestible forage and, with proper management, can provide natural protection against plant pests in farmers’ fields. Micro-organisms and invertebrates also include pathogens and vectors, parasites and pests that attack plants and animals, and carry and spread diseases.
There is no question that micro-organisms and invertebrates are critical for agriculture and food production. Understanding and managing this segment of the world’s biodiversity, and recognizing its contributions are crucial to overall sustainable agricultural development.
Unfortunately, even as scientists are discovering the many roles and values of micro-organisms and invertebrates, this diversity is being eroded or lost. Changes in land-use and resulting habitat loss, the use of pesticides and fertilizers, change in climate and resulting upsurges in invasive alien species, have all upset ecosystem balances, and have interfered with the many valuable ecosystem services provided by micro-organisms and invertebrates.