Microbial ecology is a multidisciplinary science focused on understanding the relationships between microorganisms and their living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) environment. The field has roots in both microbiology and ecology. Since mciroorganisms are significant part of all environments in which life occurs, this is a diverse field of study encompassing bacteria, archaea, unicellular eukaryotes and viruses. The term came into widespread use in the 1960s but the beginnings of the science trace back to the late 19th century and the pioneering work of Martinus Beijernick and Sergei Winogradsky on the composition of soil microbial communities and the interactions between plants an soil microbes.
Both culture based and culture independent methods for the observation of microorganisms and microbial communities are utilized. The field has received increased interest in recent years as more people within the wider biological community have gained an understanding of the ubiquity of microorganisms in the environment and of their importance to the functioning of many ecosystems.