The rate and scale of human-driven changes can exert profound impacts on ecosystems, the species that make them up and the services they provide that sustain humanity. Given the speed at which these changes are occurring, one of society's major challenges is to coexist within ecosystems and to manage ecosystem services in a sustainable way. The effect of possible scenarios of global change on ecosystem services can be explored using ecosystem models. Such models should adequately represent ecosystem processes above and below the soil surface (aboveground and belowground) and the interactions between them. We explore possibilities to include such interactions into ecosystem models at scales that range from global to local. At the regional to global scale we suggest to expand the plant functional type concept (aggregating plants into groups according to their physiological attributes) to include functional types of aboveground–belowground interactions. At the scale of discrete plant communities, process-based and organism-oriented models could be combined into “hybrid approaches” that include organism-oriented mechanistic representation of a limited number of trophic interactions in an otherwise process-oriented approach. Under global change the density and activity of organisms determining the processes may change non-linearly and therefore explicit knowledge of the organisms and their responses should ideally be included. At the individual plant scale a common organism-based conceptual model of aboveground–belowground interactions has emerged. This conceptual model facilitates the formulation of research questions to guide experiments aiming to identify patterns that are common within, but differ between, ecosystem types and biomes. Such experiments inform modelling approaches at larger scales. Future ecosystem models should better include this evolving knowledge of common patterns of aboveground–belowground interactions. Improved ecosystem models are necessary tools to reduce the uncertainty in the information that assists us in the sustainable management of our environment in a changing world.