It is increasingly being recognized that the transfer of conjugative plasmids across species boundaries plays a vital role in the adaptability of bacterial populations in soil. There are specific driving forces and constraints of plasmid transfer within bacterial communities in soils. Plasmid-mediated genetic variation allows bacteria to respond rapidly with adaptive responses to challenges such as irregular antibiotic or metal concentrations, or opportunities such as the utilization of xenobiotic compounds. Cultivation-independent detection and capture of plasmids from soil bacteria, and complete sequencing have provided new insights into the role and ecology of plasmids. Broad host range plasmids such as those belonging to IncP-1 transfer a wealth of accessory functions which are carried by similar plasmid backbones. Plasmids with a narrower host range can be more specifically adapted to particular species and often transfer genes which complement chromosomally encoded functions. Plasmids seem to be an ancient and successful strategy to ensure survival of a soil population in spatial and temporal heterogeneous conditions with various environmental stresses or opportunities that occur irregularly or as a novel challenge in soil.