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Soil as an extended composite phenotype of the microbial metagenome

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Andrew L Neal


Xiaoxian Zhang

Ian M Clark

Kevin Coleman

Professor of Soil Physics

Karl Ritz

John W Crawford


© 2020, The Author(s). We use a unique set of terrestrial experiments to demonstrate how soil management practises result in emergence of distinct associations between physical structure and biological functions. These associations have a significant effect on the flux, resilience and efficiency of nutrient delivery to plants (including water). Physical structure, determining the air–water balance in soil as well as transport rates, is influenced by nutrient and physical interventions. Contrasting emergent soil structures exert selective pressures upon the microbiome metagenome. These selective pressures are associated with the quality of organic carbon inputs, the prevalence of anaerobic microsites and delivery of nutrients to microorganisms attached to soil surfaces. This variety results in distinctive gene assemblages characterising each state. The nature of the interactions provide evidence that soil behaves as an extended composite phenotype of the resident microbiome, responsive to the input and turnover of plant-derived organic carbon. We provide new evidence supporting the theory that soil-microbe systems are self-organising states with organic carbon acting as a critical determining parameter. This perspective leads us to propose carbon flux, rather than soil organic carbon content as the critical factor in soil systems, and we present evidence to support this view.


Neal, A. L., Bacq-Labreuil, A., Zhang, X., Clark, I. M., Coleman, K., Mooney, S. J., …Crawford, J. W. (2020). Soil as an extended composite phenotype of the microbial metagenome. Scientific Reports, 10(1), Article 10649.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 5, 2020
Online Publication Date Jun 30, 2020
Publication Date Dec 1, 2020
Deposit Date Jun 16, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jun 30, 2020
Journal Scientific Reports
Print ISSN 2045-2322
Electronic ISSN 2045-2322
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 10
Issue 1
Article Number 10649
Keywords Agroecology, Computational biology and bioinformatics, Environmental sciences, Microbial ecology, Microbiology
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Received: 24 October 2019; Accepted: 5 June 2020; First Online: 30 June 2020; : The authors declare no competing interests.


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