Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture

Micro-organisms and invertebrates

Micro-organisms and invertebrates are the most numerous groups of species on Earth. Invertebrates are a highly diverse group, ranging from tiny insects to giant squids, and account for more than 95 percent of all animal species. Micro-organisms comprise the vast and diverse range of organisms that are too small to be seen by the human eye. Both groups are vital to food and agriculture.

Various kinds of micro-organisms establish mutually beneficial symbiosis with agricultural plants (e.g. colonizing roots and improving nutrient uptake) or animals (e.g. living the rumens of species such as cattle, sheep and goats and enabling them to digest fibrous foods). Micro-organisms also provide vital services in food processing, for example fermentation by yeasts and bacteria in the production of bread, yoghurt and various other foods. Many crops depend on invertebrate pollinators, most commonly bees. Both micro-organisms and invertebrates play major roles as biological control agents and are indispensable in nutrient cycling and in the formation and maintenance of soils.

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, changes in climate and upsurges in invasive alien species have all upset ecosystem balances and interfered with the valuable ecosystem services provided by micro-organisms and invertebrates.

FAO has a long tradition of technical work on the management of micro-organisms and invertebrates in food and agriculture, for example their use in integrated pest management. It also facilitates and coordinates two global initiatives of the Convention on Biological Diversity in this field: the International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Pollinators and the International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Soil Biodiversity. Many partner organizations collaborate with FAO on these important initiatives.


Soil biodiversity is under threat in all regions of the world.
Almost 90 percent of flowering plant species depend, to varying degrees, on pollinators (vertebrate or invertebrate).
Approximately three-quarters of the world’s crops producing fruits and seeds for human consumption depend, at least in part, on pollinators.
The worldwide market for biological control products (including semiochemicals and natural products in addition to biological control agents per se) was EUR 3.6 billion in 2019.
It is estimated that 99 percent of micro-organism species remain undescribed.
The 800 plus collections listed by the World Data Centre for Microorganisms together hold 3 293 403 strains (as of May 2021), representing 42 106 species of bacteria and fungi from 78 countries and regions.