Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 776–791
Environmental genomics and genome-wide expression approaches deal with large-scale sequence-based information obtained from environmental samples, at organismal, population or community levels. To date, environmental genomics, transcriptomics and proteomics are arguably the most powerful approaches to discover completely novel ecological functions and to link organismal capabilities, organism–environment interactions, functional diversity, ecosystem processes, evolution and Earth history. Thus, environmental genomics is not merely a toolbox of new technologies but also a source of novel ecological concepts and hypotheses. By removing previous dichotomies between ecophysiology, population ecology, community ecology and ecosystem functioning, environmental genomics enables the integration of sequence-based information into higher ecological and evolutionary levels. However, environmental genomics, along with transcriptomics and proteomics, must involve pluridisciplinary research, such as new developments in bioinformatics, in order to integrate high-throughput molecular biology techniques into ecology. In this review, the validity of environmental genomics and post-genomics for studying ecosystem functioning is discussed in terms of major advances and expectations, as well as in terms of potential hurdles and limitations. Novel avenues for improving the use of these approaches to test theory-driven ecological hypotheses are also explored.