The cyanobacteria have figured prominently in discussions between the editors over the years, in different countries and diverse settings, some more exotic than others. We have learned that Nature gives up her secrets with considerable reluctance. Many details and aspects of cyanobacterial ecology remain elusive. Our intention in assembling this book was to help all those trying to unravel their secrets and to reveal what is known to a wide audience.
The publication in 1994 of The Molecular Biology of Cyanobacteria edited by Donald Bryant summarized advances in not just molecular biology, but also in taxonomy, biochemistry, physiology and cellular differentiation. Although research in some topics progresses so rapidly that reviews become dated equally rapidly, Bryant's book is still the key starting point for anyone wanting to learn about these aspects of cyanobacteria. As soon as the present editors read his book, we realized that the literature on cyanobacterial ecology was even more fragmented than that on biochemistry and molecular biology had been before 1994. It was evident that there ought to be a sister volume on cyanobacterial ecology. The present book is the result.
It was Prof. G. E. Fogg's superb review (1956, Bacteriological Reviews 20: 148-165) on the The comparative physiology and biochemistry of the blue-green algae which first caught the interest, when an undergraduate student, of the more elderly of the present editors. Recognition of the prokaryote -eukaryote dichotomy and an explanation for the role of the heterocyst were still discoveries for the future. Nevertheless, even at this time, the review showed clearly the extent to which an understanding of the ecology of cyanobacteria could benefit from knowledge of their physiology and biochemistry.
The variety and complexity of populations of cyanobacteria on Aldabra Atoll, Indian Ocean, has left a permanent impression on both editors. One of them first saw the atoll as a PhD student in the mid 1970s. At that time molecular ecology was in its infancy, but its importance for understanding the interactions between cyanobacteria and their environment has become increasingly evident.
Several chapters include molecular topics and many more aspects of cyanobacterial ecology are likely to benefit from molecular insight within the next few years. Thermal spring, desert and antarctic research are all areas where molecular ecology is only just starting, but where there is great potential for molecular studies. One-third ofthe references in the present molecular chapters has been published since Bryant's volume, showing how rapidly this subject is changing.
Unlike molecular biology, however, there is a great deal of older literature on the ecology of cyanobacteria which is still of value. Some is mentioned here and more can be found in earlier edited volumes (Carr and Whitton, 1973 and 1982, Blackwell; Fay and Van Baalen, 1987, Elsevier; Carr and Mann, 1992, Plenum). Hopefully this will be enough to persuade readers to check the older literature, rather than relying on a database starting in 1981. All too often new studies on physiological ecology are published which say little more than previous studies published thirty years ago. No doubt in most cases this is because modem researchers are unaware of the older studies. It would be excellent if someone took the initiative to produce a CD-ROM with the abstracts from all the older literature.
A number of chapters mention applied or commercial aspects. Practical problems related to cyanobacteria have often been tackled in the past with little thought about the ecology of the organisms. We hope that the book will encourage those dealing with such problems to make use of the information here. Topics which should benefit include the management of dense cyanobacterial populations in nature, such as fish-farms and toxic blooms, improvements in soil quality, and diverse commercial developments. We will regard the present book as a real success if it stimulates sufficient ecologically sound applied studies tojustify within a few years a third book in this series, on Practical Uses and Problems of Cyanobacteria.
At the time of writing this the sequencing of one cyanobacterial genome is completed, and three others are in progress. One, that of Nostoc, is the largest microbial genome studied to date. We can ponder over the likely advances and developments these activities will bring to the appreciation of cyanobacteria.
Many people have helped us. It was enjoyable working with the various authors, especially when we had the chance to meet and argue about cyanobacterial science. We are also grateful to many other people. Several helped to review particular chapters, including George Bullerjahn, Ed Carpenter, Jean Houmard, Rocco Mancinelli, Jack Meeks and Tony Walsby. However, any errors which may have crept past the reviewing process are of course our fault. We thank all those who loaned colour slides for the plates, especially those who were not involved in writing chapters: S. Babic, Peter Baker, David Bellamy, B. Bergman, Michael Burch, John Davies, Earthrise Farms staff, Imre Friedmann, David Livingstone, Dieter Mollenhauer. A number of postdocs and research students also offered helpful comments and we particularly thank Martin Muhling. Much of the preparation of camera-ready copy and some redrawing of figures was done by John Daniell. Judith John prepared the Organism Index. Staff from Kluwer have been most enthusiastic about the book. Rent Mijs got it started, while Alison Bradshaw dealt with the later stages and Andre Toumois was in charge of production.
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