The Vestfold Hills, at the coastal fringes of the Eastern Antarctic, is one of the largest ice-free areas of the Australian Antarctic Territory. The understudied soils of this region are predicted to harbour a rich and unique microbial biodiversity, but are highly vulnerable to global and local change. This study will survey the spatial structure and function of the microbes in the region’s soils. Combining the expertise of microbiologists, ecologists, and biochemists, we will quantitatively analyse three factors that may drive differences in biodiversity across the region: (1) dispersal influences (neutral factors), (2) physical and chemical properties of the soils (niche factors), with a focus on aridity, and (3) functional capacity of the microbes, with emphasis on novel primary production strategies. In turn, these biomarkers will predict the vulnerability of these communities to change and provide foundations for long-term management and monitoring of this ecosystem.