Ubiquitous microfauna - inhabiting air, water and soil
About 150 years ago, on 12. August 1855, the scientists Hermann and Adolph Schlagintweit,
two brothers, filled a little bit of white, apparently quartz and mica containing sand
into what they called "a cylindrical wooden box, 2½ inch in heigth,
with a half-inch inner diameter". The sample container was carefully sealed,
marked with inscription no. "1" and sewed into a special dense cotton cloth.
In order to properly assess the particular situation one should be aware
of the fact that the third brother, Rudolph, had been killed two years
before during an expedition to Kashgar, a tragic victim of local tribal conflicts.
At the moment when the vial was filled the two surviving brothers
spent some thrilling hours at the Ibi Gamin Pass, in the Himalayas, about 20,000 feet in height.
At this place they collected eight soil samples, including parts of the scarce vegetation.
Those samples were planned to be investigated later on by the famous microlife specialist
Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg in Berlin.
On the basis of this and some other results from comparably extreme expeditions
Ehrenberg in 1859 published his fundamental article entitled
"Contribution to the assessment
of the stationary life in Alpine heights up to 20,000 feet".
This issue will be dedicated exclusively to the famous Ehrenberg article.
The term "stationary" in the title does mean that most traces of life found
were considered to be stable under those extreme conditions.
Ehrenberg was not only driven by the wish to discover new microfauna species. Moreover,
he was eager to confirm his theory of omnipresent micro-life, unvisible
to the bare eye but nevertheless causing tremendous effects:
the formation of mountains and a major contribution to the nutrition of
the rest of the fauna.
Microfauna in water
In his article Ehrenberg points out that there seem to be parallels between
the relatively scarce microfauna population density of the oceans and
that of the Himalayas: in both cases life is not very conspicuous, sometimes
invisible to the bare eye, but nevertheless omnipresent - as it will always
be possible to get hold of it by special means (plankton net,
microscope). Already before Ehrenberg had demonstrated that the tiny shells
of fossil organisms like the Radiolaria
can sum up to gigantic mountains. Later on, in 1851, Thomas Huxley found
the corresponding living radiolaria in the Mediterranean Sea. It had been
proven that microscopic organisms can cause huge effects - though in this case
only as a post mortem tomb community.