Calm down guys, I am not talking about sex. Since yesterday, the day we got to this amazing island, I keep thinking about the size of organisms and how it relates to their importance to community and ecosystem functioning. In one day, only one day, we saw many tree species. We saw tamandua, Howler and Capuchin monkeys, birds, agoutis, a crocodile…we even saw a professor with an injured knee and another one, old and getting lost in the jungle. These are the stuff that first comes to my mind if I am to remember what I have seen these days. I would say the same occurs with you guys (maybe not?). But what about tiny organisms? Fungi, bacteria, ants, termites? Poor guys, always coming later to our mind…

If we think of their importance to the functioning of the environment, though, tiny organisms will come first.  Well, first “Does organism size relate to influence in ecosystem functioning? Specifically, the larger the organism the more useless it is?

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The advent of life on earth started with ridiculously tiny organisms and since then they undoubtedly play a great role in the functioning of communities and ecosystems. They degrade dead (or live) stuff and make many nutrients available for other species, without which such species would not survive or would have a less fancy life. They are part of obligatory mutualistic interactions and so fundamental to species diversity and how they influence their habitat (remember Leigh’s talk!). By the way, how amazing are the “ménage a trois” interactions, in which one species helps another that helps a third species? Would big organisms live without all of these? Probably not…

The big guys are usually more charismatic, of course, and are often the target of conservation plans. This is cool because they can work as “umbrella” species. Because they usually need a very large area for living, the areas to be protected also need to be large, and all other species inhabiting such area will also be protected. Does anyone know of protected areas created because of an endemic fungus or bacteria or any other tiny organism (pick one up!)? I think this is the case even to protect pollinators. Their importance to the environment functioning goes without saying.

If we/who are (really) interested in answering big questions to explain how the world looks how it looks, should not we be studying those little guys that come later to our minds and some people do not care about?

Jonathas

 

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The smaller the better: Yes, size matters

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