Ecology and exploration of the rare biosphere

The profound influence of microorganisms on human life and global biogeochemical cycles underlines the value of studying the biogeography of microorganisms, exploring microbial genomes and expanding our understanding of most microbial species on Earth: that is, those present at low relative abundance. The detection and subsequent analysis of low-abundance microbial populations — the 'rare biosphere' — have demonstrated the persistence, population dynamics, dispersion and predation of these microbial species. We discuss the ecology of rare microbial populations, and highlight molecular and computational methods for targeting taxonomic 'blind spots' within the rare biosphere of complex microbial communities.