Viewing microbial habitats as interacting zones of proliferation and quiescence can give new insights into the operation of microbial communities in the environment. Microorganisms proliferate in diverse circumstances and are the principal mediators of many processes affecting the world. However, not all microorganisms are reproducing. The total microbial biomass, in fact, includes many cells in a state of suspended animation, or quiescence. Although scant attention is usually given to this 'sleeping' portion of the microbial community, quiescent microbes may be critically important in ecosystems, especially in system-level responses to environmental changes. Quiescent microbes play roles in processes such as photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, and productivity. Thus, from the perspective of ecological studies, it is particularly important to expand the research focus beyond the traditional examination of what microorganisms are doing when they are doing something. This expanded approach would include studies of where, when, and how quiescent microbial forms occur in the environment and the ramifications of temporarily storing various fractions of microbial populations in a quiescent state.