The activities of complex communities of microbes affect biogeochemical transformations in natural, managed and engineered ecosystems. Meaningfully defining what constitutes a community of interacting microbial populations is not trivial, but is important for rigorous progress in the field. Important elements of research in microbial community ecology include the analysis of functional pathways for nutrient resource and energy flows, mechanistic understanding of interactions between microbial populations and their environment, and the emergent properties of the complex community. Some emergent properties mirror those analyzed by community ecologists who study plants and animals: biological diversity, functional redundancy and system stability. However, because microbes possess mechanisms for the horizontal transfer of genetic information, the metagenome may also be considered as a community property.