Ecosystems under the microscope: why microbes matter for conservation

Microscopic organisms are found everywhere on Earth: in soils, oceans, and living in association with animal and plant hosts. Recent research directed at understanding these complex microbial communities, known as the ‘microbiome’, has revealed that they play an essential role in maintaining the health of both individual species and entire ecosystems.

At the individual level, the host microbiome is critical to the function of the immune system and protection from harmful pathogens. At the ecosystem level, microbes drive a range of processes of significant importance to ecosystem health such as nutrient cycling. Therefore, microbes are likely responsible for shaping and maintaining the biodiversity we observe in nature, at all levels of organisation. 

It is now clear that understanding how microbes interact with the animals, plants and soils that they inhabit can help us to tackle a broad range of global conservation challenges.  At this event, we will explore several applied aspects of microbiome science, from designing probiotic therapies to mitigate wildlife disease, to optimising the health of commercially important pollinator species like bees, and increasing crop yields by enhancing below-ground nutrient cycling.



  • Professor Matthew Fisher, Imperial College London
    Friend or foe: how do microbes impact disease outcome in amphibians exposed to emerging infections? 

Professor Matthew Fisher works on emerging pathogenic fungi and heads a research group at the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, St Mary's Hospital, Imperial College London. His research uses an evolutionary framework to investigate the biological and environmental factors that are driving emerging fungal diseases across human, wildlife and plant species. Wildlife plays a key role in the emergence of human emerging infectious disease (EID) by providing a 'zoonotic pool' from which previously unknown pathogens emerge. Conversely, human action impacts on patterns of fungal disease via the perturbation of natural systems, the introduction, and the spread of pathogenic fungi into naive environments, and by rapid natural selection for phenotypes such as resistance to antimicrobial drugs. These interactions are leading to an upswing of new fungal infections in new places, and causing new human diseases. Matthew Fisher’s research group is focused on developing genomic, epidemiological and experimental models to uncover the factors driving these EIDs, and to attempt to develop new methods of diagnosis and control.

Philip Poole was Professor of Microbial Physiology at the University of Reading until he moved to the John Innes Centre in Norwich in 2007. In 2013, he took up a personal chair as Professor of Plant Microbiology at the University of Oxford. His group studies the physiology of bacterial growth and survival in the rhizosphere, colonisation of roots and how bacteria establish symbiotic interactions with plants. A further focus of his research is the physiology and biochemistry of nitrogen fixation in legume nodules. Recently he has developed new methods to study how plants control the plant root microbiome.

Julia Ferrari is interested in the ecology and evolution of species interactions and this has been a common theme throughout her career.  In the last ten years, she has been focussing on the role that bacterial symbionts play in these interactions. Julia did her undergraduate degree at the University of Göttingen (Germany).  She then moved to Britain to do a PhD at Imperial College London (Silwood Park Campus) with Professor Charles Godfray.  She stayed at Silwood as a Post-doc (2001-2006) and then moved to the University of Oxford as a Departmental Lecturer (2006-2009).  In 2009, she moved to the University of York as a Lecturer, now Senior Lecturer.

  • Chaired by Dr Xavier Harrison, Institute of Zoology, ZSL



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