Elsevier, Soil Biology and Biochemistry, Volume 136, September 2019
Soils host the vast majority of life on Earth including microorganisms and animals, and supporting all terrestrial vegetation. While soil organisms are pivotal for ecosystem functioning, the assemblages of different biota from a taxonomic and functional perspective, as well as how these different organisms interact, remains poorly known. We provide a brief overview of the taxonomic and functional diversity of all major groups of soil biota across different scales and organism sizes, ranging from viruses to prokaryotes and eukaryotes. This reveals knowledge gaps in relation to all soil biodiversity groups, which are especially evident for viruses, protists, micro- and meso-fauna. We review currently-available methods to study the taxonomic and functional diversity of soil organisms by grouping all commonly-used methods into morphological, biochemical and molecular approaches. We list potentials and limitations of the methods to reveal that there is, as yet, no single method to fully characterize the biodiversity even of a single group of soil biota. Yet, we stress that we now have the methods available to enable scientists to disentangle the taxonomic and functional diversity of virtually all soil organisms. We provide a user-friendly guide to help researchers address a wider variety of soil biodiversity in their studies by discussing and critically analysing the various potentials and limitations of diverse methods to study distinct groups of soil life. We highlight that integrative methodological approaches, ideally in collaborative interactions, are key to advancing our understanding of soil biodiversity, such as the combination of morphological and molecular approaches to overcome method-specific limitations. Together, integrative efforts can provide information on the abundance, biomass, diversity and function of several groups of soil biota simultaneously. This newly-obtained integrative information on soil biodiversity will help to define the importance of soil biodiversity in ecosystem processes, functions, and services, and serve to refine food-web and earth system models.