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A framework for soil microbial ecology in urban ecosystems

  • Author(s): Nugent, A;
  • Allison, SD
  • et al.

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Nearly all ecosystems host diverse microbiomes that support vital ecosystem processes. At the same time, these ecosystems and their microbiomes are increasingly altered by human activities, particularly in highly managed urban environments. While microbial ecologists are beginning to understand the drivers of microbial assembly and the link between community structure and function in many ecosystems, few of these advances have been applied to urban ecosystems. In this synthesis, we review research on the urban soil microbiome and develop a framework to integrate soil microbial communities with urban ecosystem function. We identify disturbance, altered resources, and heterogeneity as key drivers through which human activities including urban development affect soils and their resident microorganisms. Steep environmental gradients in many urban systems present a unique opportunity to address fundamental questions in microbial ecology, such as how microbes respond to stress and how biogeochemical rates relate to microbial diversity and composition. Soil microbiomes in cities also provide ecosystem services and harms, making it crucial to understand how human activity drives those functions and the consequences for environmental and human health. We argue that much-needed integration across disturbance ecology, urban ecology, and microbial ecology will help generate practical and equitable strategies for managing ecosystem benefits in cities where most humans now live.

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