Ancestor microbes started colonizing inland habitats approximately 2.7 to 3.5 billion years ago. With some exceptions, the key physiological adaptations of microbiomes associated with marine-to-land transitions have remained elusive. This is essentially caused by the lack of suitable systems that depict changes in microbiomes across sufficiently large time scales. Here, we investigate the adaptive routes taken by microbiomes along a contemporary gradient of land formation. Using functional trait-based metagenomics, we show that a switch from a microbial 'dispersal' to a 'competition' response modus best characterizes the microbial trait changes during this eco-evolutionary trajectory. The 'dispersal' modus prevails in microbiomes at the boundary sites between land and sea. It encompasses traits conferring cell chemosensory and motile behaviors, thus allowing the local microbes to exploit short-lived nutritional patches in high-diffusion microhabitats. A systematic transition towards the 'competition' modus occurs progressively as the soil matures, which is likely due to forces of viscosity or strain that favor traits for competition and chemical defense. Concomitantly, progressive increases in the abundances of genes encoding antibiotic resistance and complex organic substrate degradation were found. Our findings constitute a novel perspective on the ecology and evolution of microbiome traits, tracking back one of the most seminal transitions in the evolutionary history of life.
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