THE MICROBES OF ORACLE STATE PARK
By Jerry D. Orr, Park Ranger
Oracle State Park is a 4000-acre wildlife refuge and center for environmental education located near the community of Oracle, Arizona, United States of America. For the last five years, first as a volunteer and now as a Park Ranger, I have been leading natural history walks here at the park. I am often asked by visitors what animals and plants have been seen here, and we at the Park have been keeping track of the plants and animals observed. It has recently occurred to me though that there is one key group of organisms here for which there is little public awareness – the microbes.
Microbial communities form the foundation of any ecosystem. They cycle and recycle key nutrients needed by all organic components of an ecosystem. In fact, certain bacteria are the only known organisms on this planet that can fix gaseous nitrogen into organic compounds that all organisms must have. Yet, in spite of their fundamental importance, most biological surveys, that I have been a part of, either completely ignore microbes or only give them a cursory mention.
In order to address the apparent gap in our knowledge of the microbial wildlife of Oracle State Park, I have begun the process of developing and implementing a simple surveying protocol for the microbial inhabitants of the park. The ultimate objective of this survey will be the production, for the public, of a simple field guide to the microbial communities and their larger members that can be found within Oracle State Park. The organisms to be included in this field guide will be those large enough to be observed in a low power (30-40x) field microscope.
It will not be the intention of the field guide to identify organisms to species, or in most cases even to genus, but to simply identify the major groups, types and classes of microbes and microbial communities, where they can be found in the park and how they can be observed.
Since the field guide will be for the use of the general public, I would like to keep it as simple and jargon free as possible. I have found, in my previous attempts to incorporate microbiology into my natural history presentations, that as soon as I start using microbiological terminology, I lose the public’s interest. Consequently, it may be necessary for me to adopt a more simplified terminology for use with the field guide.
An example of one possible layout for the proposed field guide is as follows:
A simplified, short overview of microbes and microbial communities.
An annotated drawing of a low power (30-40x) microscopic view for each microbial community identified within Oracle State Park.
A simplified descriptive list of the organisms noted in the drawings.
A short section on sample collecting with an emphasis on the ethical treatment of the organisms collected.
A short section on simple microscopy techniques.
A short section on where the various microbial communities can be found in the park.
As stated previously, I am only in the initial stages of this project. Once I have accumulated a sufficient number of observations, I will put forth the first version of the field guide. I foresee the field guide being a continuous work in process, which will be digitally stored at the park and printed out for interested parties as needed.
Comments to the author Jerry Orr are welcomed.
Published in the January 2009 edition of Micscape.
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