Bridging Microbial Functional Traits With Localized Process Rates at Soil Interfaces
In this review, we introduce microbially-mediated soil processes, players, their functional traits, and their links to processes at biogeochemical interfaces [e.g., rhizosphere, detritusphere, (bio)-pores, and aggregate surfaces]. A conceptual view emphasizes the central role of the rhizosphere in interactions with other biogeochemical interfaces, considering biotic and abiotic dynamic drivers. We discuss the applicability of three groups of traits based on microbial physiology, activity state, and genomic functional traits to reflect microbial growth in soil. The sensitivity and credibility of modern molecular approaches to estimate microbial-specific growth rates require further development. A link between functional traits determined by physiological (e.g., respiration, biomarkers) and genomic (e.g., genome size, number of ribosomal gene copies per genome, expression of catabolic versus biosynthetic genes) approaches is strongly affected by environmental conditions such as carbon, nutrient availability, and ecosystem type. Therefore, we address the role of soil physico-chemical conditions and trophic interactions as drivers of microbially-mediated soil processes at relevant scales for process localization. The strengths and weaknesses of current approaches (destructive, non-destructive, and predictive) for assessing process localization and the corresponding estimates of process rates are linked to the challenges for modeling microbially-mediated processes in heterogeneous soil microhabitats. Finally, we introduce a conceptual self-regulatory mechanism based on the flexible structure of active microbial communities. Microbial taxa best suited to each successional stage of substrate decomposition become dominant and alter the community structure. The rates of decomposition of organic compounds, therefore, are dependent on the functional traits of dominant taxa and microbial strategies, which are selected and driven by the local environment.