Abstract Environmental microbiology is undergoing a dramatic revolution due to the increasing accumulation of biological information and contextual environmental parameters. This will not only enable a better identification of diversity patterns, but will also shed more light on the associated environmental conditions, spatial locations, and seasonal fluctuations, which could explain such patterns. Complex ecological questions may now be addressed using multivariate statistical analyses, which represent a vast potential of techniques that are still underexploited. Here, well-established exploratory and hypothesis-driven approaches are reviewed, so as to foster their addition to the microbial ecologist toolbox. Because such tools aim at reducing data set complexity, at identifying major patterns and putative causal factors, they will certainly find many applications in microbial ecology.
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