Plant and Soil

, Volume 365, Issue 1–2, pp 35–40 | Cite as

A new tool of the trade: plant-trait based approaches in microbial ecology

  • Jeff R. Powell
  • Ian C. Anderson
  • Matthias C. Rillig

We view the microbial ecology toolbox as containing many complementary instruments, and how they are used needs to reflect this complementarity. Next generation sequencing has exponentially increased sequencing depth, enhancing descriptions of microbial communities and discovering rare species and lineages that had previously been undetectable (Öpik et al. 2009; Gilbert et al. 2009). Microbial ecologists are also learning how to overcome the bias in ‘culture-dependent’ approaches, using genomics to elucidate functional roles and requirements (Mackelprang et al. 2011). However, by itself, next generation sequencing does little to aid understanding of the ecological drivers of microbial diversity and its consequences for ecosystem functioning and stability. Without the incorporation of complementary tools into these studies, as well as the use of appropriate experimental designs (Prosser 2010), microbial ecology will not move beyond an exercise in natural history and into a more...


Causality Ecophysiological approaches Ecosystem services Environmental microbiology Functional diversity Functional traits Multifunctionality 



Two reviewers provided helpful suggestions that improved the manuscript. ICA acknowledges funding for a collaboration fellowship from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. We thank the authors of the two papers that formed the basis for this commentary for stimulating the ideas and Żubrówka for facilitating the discussions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeff R. Powell
    • 1
  • Ian C. Anderson
    • 1
  • Matthias C. Rillig
    • 2
  1. 1.Hawkesbury Institute for the EnvironmentUniversity of Western SydneyRichmondAustralia
  2. 2.Institut für BiologieFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany

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