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Urban microbiomes and urban ecology: How do microbes in the built environment affect human sustainability in cities?

Abstract

Humans increasingly occupy cities. Globally, about 50% of the total human population lives in urban environments, and in spite of some trends for deurbanization, the transition from rural to urban life is expected to accelerate in the future, especially in developing nations and regions. The Republic of Korea, for example, has witnessed a dramatic rise in its urban population, which now accounts for nearly 90% of all residents; the increase from about 29% in 1955 has been attributed to multiple factors, but has clearly been driven by extraordinary growth in the gross domestic product accompanying industrialization. While industrialization and urbanization have unarguably led to major improvements in quality of life indices in Korea and elsewhere, numerous serious problems have also been acknowledged, including concerns about resource availability, water quality, amplification of global warming and new threats to health. Questions about sustainability have therefore led Koreans and others to consider deurbanization as a management policy. Whether this offers any realistic prospects for a sustainable future remains to be seen. In the interim, it has become increasingly clear that built environments are no less complex than natural environments, and that they depend on a variety of internal and external connections involving microbes and the processes for which microbes are responsible. I provide here a definition of the urban microbiome, and through examples indicate its centrality to human function and wellbeing in urban systems. I also identify important knowledge gaps and unanswered questions about urban microbiomes that must be addressed to develop a robust, predictive and general understanding of urban biology and ecology that can be used to inform policy-making for sustainable systems.

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King, G.M. Urban microbiomes and urban ecology: How do microbes in the built environment affect human sustainability in cities?. J Microbiol. 52, 721–728 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12275-014-4364-x

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Keywords

  • microbiome
  • urban
  • public health
  • diversity
  • ecosystem services