Background: In the face of climate change, shifts in genetic structure and composition of terrestrial plant species are occurring worldwide. Because different genotypes of these plant species support different soil biota and soil processes, shifts in genetics are likely to have cascading effects on ecosystems.
Scope: We explore plant genetic effects on soil function in the context of climate change, and selection by soils, soil biota and plant-soil feedbacks. We propose categories of genetically-based plant traits that should be prioritized in research on genetic-based effects on soil processes including plant productivity and C allocation, tissue quality, plant water-use, and rhizosphere mutualisms. Additionally, we posit that soil community responses to climate change should be considered in concert with plant genotype because of sensitivity of soil communities to climate. We use two case studies to highlight these points.
Conclusions: We argue that the effects of climate change as an agent of selection on plants may cascade to affect soils, and ultimately the structure, composition and function of ecosystems. Understanding the ecological and evolutionary potential of plant-soil linkages may help us understand and mitigate the extended consequences of global change for ecosystems worldwide. Accordingly, we conclude with experimental approaches for examining genetically-based plant-soil interactions across climate change gradients.