Viruses are ubiquitous on Earth and are keystone components of environments, ecosystems, and human health. Yet, viruses remain poorly studied because most cannot be isolated in a laboratory. In the field of biogeochemistry, which aims to understand the interactions between biology, geology, and chemistry, there is progress to be made in understanding the different roles played by viruses in nutrient cycling, food webs, and elemental transformations. In this commentary, we outline current microbial ecology frameworks for understanding biogeochemical cycling in aquatic ecosystems. Next, we review some existing experimental and computational techniques that are enabling us to study the role of viruses in biogeochemical cycling, using examples from aquatic environments. Finally, we provide a conceptual model that balances limitations of computational tools when combined with biogeochemistry and ecological data. We envision meeting the grand challenge of understanding how viruses impact biogeochemical cycling by using a multifaceted approach to viral ecology.
Keywords: bacteriophages; biogeochemistry; microbial ecology; viruses.