Microbial ecology of the atmosphere

Šantl-Temkiv, Tina; Amato, Pierre; Casamayor, Emilio O.; Lee, Patrick K. H.; Pointing, Stephen B. FEMS Microbiology Reviews 43 : 1-18 (2022)  DIGITAL CSIC  

The atmosphere connects habitats across multiple spatial scales via airborne dispersal of microbial cells, propagules and biomolecules. Atmospheric microorganisms have been implicated in a variety of biochemical and biophysical transformations. Here, we review ecological aspects of airborne microorganisms with respect to their dispersal, activity and contribution to climatic processes. Latest studies utilizing metagenomic approaches demonstrate that airborne microbial communities exhibit pronounced biogeography, driven by a combination of biotic and abiotic factors. We quantify distributions and fluxes of microbial cells between surface habitats and the atmosphere and place special emphasis on long-range pathogen dispersal. Recent advances have established that these processes may be relevant for macroecological outcomes in terrestrial and marine habitats. We evaluate the potential biological transformation of atmospheric volatile organic compounds and other substrates by airborne microorganisms and discuss clouds as hotspots of microbial metabolic activity in the atmosphere. Furthermore, we emphasize the role of microorganisms as ice nucleating particles and their relevance for the water cycle via formation of clouds and precipitation. Finally, potential impacts of anthropogenic forcing on the natural atmospheric microbiota via emission of particulate matter, greenhouse gases and microorganisms are discussed.