Chapter 21 : Ubiquitous Dispersal of Free-Living Microorganisms

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For purely statistical reasons, the sheer weight of numbers of microorganisms may drive their large-scale, even ubiquitous, dispersal, and this chapter concerns with exploring some of the evidence for this idea. The chapter uses the term ubiquitous dispersal to mean the process of continuous worldwide dispersal of individuals belonging to a species, whereas cosmopolitan refers to species that are capable of population growth in many different places worldwide. The evidence for ubiquitous dispersal is not always obvious because microorganisms are often cryptic, or because of undersampling. There are some important examples, however, that present themselves as direct and indirect evidence. In the discussion that follows, the term microorganism includes the prokaryotes and the unicellular eukaryotes (mainly algae and protozoa). But with ubiquitous dispersal as the relevant model of large-scale distribution, the global diversity of bacteria in soil would perhaps not be expected to be much greater than 4,000 genomes. Claims for endemic diatoms or any other microbial endemics probably cannot be supported because the absolute abundance of all free-living microbial eukaryote species is so great that ubiquitous dispersal is likely and because it is effectively impossible to disprove the existence of endemics (i.e., including resting spores and other cryptic forms) elsewhere on the planet.

Citation: Finlay B, Esteban G. 2004. Ubiquitous Dispersal of Free-Living Microorganisms, p 216-224. In Bull A (ed), Microbial Diversity and Bioprospecting. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817770.ch21

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Table 1

Fundamental differences between macroscopic plants and animals and free-living microorganisms

Citation: Finlay B, Esteban G. 2004. Ubiquitous Dispersal of Free-Living Microorganisms, p 216-224. In Bull A (ed), Microbial Diversity and Bioprospecting. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817770.ch21

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