Microbial community responses to anthropogenically induced environmental change: towards a systems approach


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The soil environment is essential to many ecosystem services which are primarily mediated by microbial communities. Soil physical and chemical conditions are altered on local and global scales by anthropogenic activity and which threatens the provision of many soil services. Despite the importance of soil biota for ecosystem function, we have limited ability to predict and manage soil microbial community responses to change. To better understand causal relationships between microbial community structure and ecological function, we argue for a systems approach to prediction and management of microbial response to environmental change. This necessitates moving beyond concepts of resilience, resistance and redundancy that assume single optimum stable states, to ones that better reflect the dynamic and interactive nature of microbial systems. We consider the response of three soil groups (ammonia oxidisers, denitrifiers, symbionts) to anthropogenic perturbation to motivate our discussion. We also present a network re-analysis of a saltmarsh microbial community which illustrates how such approaches can reveal ecologically important connections between functional groups. More generally, we suggest the need for integrative studies which consider how environmental variables moderate interactions between functional groups, how this moderation affects biogeochemical processes and how these feedbacks ultimately drive ecosystem services provided by soil biota.