The relatively poor simulation of the below-ground processes is a severe drawback for many ecosystem models, especially when predicting responses to climate change and management. For a meaningful estimation of ecosystem production and the cycling of water, energy, nutrients and carbon, the integration of soil processes and the exchanges at the surface is crucial. It is increasingly recognized that soil biota play an important role in soil organic carbon and nutrient cycling, shaping soil structure and hydrological properties through their activity, and in water and nutrient uptake by plants through mycorrhizal processes. In this article, we review the main soil biological actors (microbiota, fauna and roots) and their effects on soil functioning. We review to what extent they have been included in soil models and propose which of them could be included in ecosystem models. We show that the model representation of the soil food web, the impact of soil ecosystem engineers on soil structure and the related effects on hydrology and soil organic matter (SOM) stabilization are key issues in improving ecosystem-scale soil representation in models. Finally, we describe a new core model concept (KEYLINK) that integrates insights from SOM models, structural models and food web models to simulate the living soil at an ecosystem scale.
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