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The global contribution of soil mosses to ecosystem services


Soil mosses are among the most widely distributed organisms on land. Experiments and observations suggest that they contribute to terrestrial soil biodiversity and function, yet their ecological contribution to soil has never been assessed globally under natural conditions. Here we conducted the most comprehensive global standardized field study to quantify how soil mosses influence 8 ecosystem services associated with 24 soil biodiversity and functional attributes across wide environmental gradients from all continents. We found that soil mosses are associated with greater carbon sequestration, pool sizes for key nutrients and organic matter decomposition rates but a lower proportion of soil-borne plant pathogens than unvegetated soils. Mosses are especially important for supporting multiple ecosystem services where vascular-plant cover is low. Globally, soil mosses potentially support 6.43 Gt more carbon in the soil layer than do bare soils. The amount of soil carbon associated with mosses is up to six times the annual global carbon emissions from any altered land use globally. The largest positive contribution of mosses to soils occurs under perennial, mat and turf mosses, in less-productive ecosystems and on sandy soils. Our results highlight the contribution of mosses to soil life and functions and the need to conserve these important organisms to support healthy soils.

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Fig. 1: A global survey of mosses to investigate soil biodiversity and function.
Fig. 2: Global distribution of soil mosses.
Fig. 3: Contribution of mosses and vascular plants to multiple ecosystem services.
Fig. 4: Contribution of vascular plants and mosses to multiservices.
Fig. 5: Environmental factors associated with the contribution of mosses to multiple ecosystem services.

Data availability

All the materials, raw data, and protocols used in the article are available upon request. Data used in this study can be found in the Figshare data repository ref. 51.


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We thank D. Wardle for his insightful comments on an earlier draft and A. Gallardo for his assistance during sample collection. We are grateful to V. Hugonnot, J. G. Segarra-Moragues, F. Müller, S. Stix, I. Charissou, D. Yann, M.-F. Indorf and BRYONET for assistance identifying moss species. We thank S. C. Angorrilla for help with laboratory analyses. The study work associated with this paper was funded by a Large Research Grant from the British Ecological Society (no. LRB17\1019; MUSGONET). D.J.E. is supported by the Hermon Slade Foundation. M.D.-B. was supported by a Ramón y Cajal grant from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (RYC2018-025483-I), a project from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation for the I + D + i (PID2020-115813RA-I00 funded by MCIN/AEI/10.13039/501100011033a) and a project PAIDI 2020 from the Junta de Andalucía (P20_00879). E.G. is supported by the European Research Council grant agreement 647038 (BIODESERT). M.B. is supported by a Ramón y Cajal grant from Spanish Ministry of Science (RYC2021-031797-I). A.d.l.R is supported by the AEI project PID2019-105469RB-C22. L.W. and Jianyong Wang are supported by the Program for Introducing Talents to Universities (B16011) and the Ministry of Education Innovation Team Development Plan (2013-373). The contributions of T.G. and T.U.N. were supported by the Research Program in Forest Biology, Ecology and Technology (P4-0107) and the research projects J4-3098 and J4-4547 of the Slovenian Research Agency. The contribution of P.B.R. was supported by the NSF Biological Integration Institutes grant DBI-2021898. J. Durán and A. Rodríguez acknowledge support from the FCT (2020.03670.CEECIND and SFRH/BDP/108913/2015, respectively), as well as from the MCTES, FSE, UE and the CFE (UIDB/04004/2021) research unit financed by FCT/MCTES through national funds (PIDDAC).

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Authors and Affiliations



M.D.-B. and D.J.E. developed the original idea of the analyses presented in the paper. M.D.-B. designed the field study and wrote the grant that funded the work. Field data were collected by M.D.-B., D.J.E., M.B., J.L.B.-P., C.P., S.M., S.A., F.A., A.R.B., A.d.l.R., J. Durán., T.G., J.G.I., Y.-R.L., T.P.M., M.A.M.-M. T.U.N., G.F.P.-B., A. Rey, A. Rodriguez, C.S., A.L.T., C.T.-D., P.T., L.W., Jianyong Wang, E.Z., X.Z. and X.-Q.Z. Laboratory analyses were performed by M.D.-B., H.-W.H., J.-Z.H., F.B., J.L.M., L.T., T.S.-S., T.Y., W.S., H.C., S.P. and P.T. Mapping and remote sensing were performed by J.J.G., E.G. and C.A.G. and bioinformatic analyses by B.S., Juntao Wang, H.-W.H. and J.-Z.H. Meta-analytical data were collected by S.L. and G.Z. Statistical analyses were carried out by M.D.-B, J. Ding and M.M.-C. The paper was written by D.J.E. and M.D.-B. and edited by P.B.R., R.O.-H. and J. Ding with contributions from all co-authors.

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Correspondence to David J. Eldridge or Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo.

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Nature Geoscience thanks Bernhard Schmid, Brian Steidinger and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Xujia Jiang, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–19, Tables 1–9 and Appendices 1–5.

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Supplementary Video 1

Video showing a sample of study sites in Google Earth and photographs of their mosses.

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Eldridge, D.J., Guirado, E., Reich, P.B. et al. The global contribution of soil mosses to ecosystem services. Nat. Geosci. 16, 430–438 (2023).

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