Over the last few decades, advances in cultivation-independent methods have significantly contributed to our understanding of microbial diversity and community composition in the environment. At the same time, cultivation-dependent methods have thrived, and the growing number of organisms obtained thereby have allowed for detailed studies of their physiology and genetics. Still, most microorganisms are recalcitrant to cultivation. This review not only conveys current knowledge about different isolation and cultivation strategies but also discusses what implications can be drawn from pure culture work for studies in microbial ecology. Specifically, in the light of single-cell individuality and genome heterogeneity, it becomes important to evaluate population-wide measurements carefully. An overview of various approaches in microbial ecology is given, and the cell as a central unit for understanding processes on a community level is discussed.