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Soil microbiomes and climate change


The soil microbiome governs biogeochemical cycling of macronutrients, micronutrients and other elements vital for the growth of plants and animal life. Understanding and predicting the impact of climate change on soil microbiomes and the ecosystem services they provide present a grand challenge and major opportunity as we direct our research efforts towards one of the most pressing problems facing our planet. In this Review, we explore the current state of knowledge about the impacts of climate change on soil microorganisms in different climate-sensitive soil ecosystems, as well as potential ways that soil microorganisms can be harnessed to help mitigate the negative consequences of climate change.

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Fig. 1: Current state and desired outcome of soil microbiome science.
Fig. 2: Soil microbial responses to climate change.
Fig. 3: Manipulating the soil microbiome to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change.


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This research was supported by the US Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) and is a contribution to the Scientific Focus Area ‘Phenotypic response of the soil microbiome to environmental perturbations’. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is operated for the Department of Energy by Battelle Memorial Institute under contract DE-AC05-76RLO1830.

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Correspondence to Janet K. Jansson or Kirsten S. Hofmockel.

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Soil that has been frozen for at least 2 consecutive years.

Carbon use efficiency

The difference between the amount of carbon respired as CO2 and that incorporated into the cellular biomass.


Species that typically have high growth rates and are able to respond quickly to resources as they become available.


Species that typically are slow growing and adapted to utilize minimal resources.


A community phenotype that is the product of genomic potential encoded in metagenomes and the environmental conditions that govern which genes are expressed.

C4 plants

Plants that fix CO2 into a four-carbon compound (in addition to a three-carbon compound) and that have high photosynthetic efficiency due to an absence of photorespiration.

C3 plants

Plants that fix CO2 into a three-carbon compound and that have a lower photosynthetic efficiency than C4 plants.

Metagenome-assembled genomes

(MAGs). Genomes that are derived from assembled metagenome data; often using a process called ‘binning’.

Auxiliary metabolic genes

Genes on viral sequences (genomes or contigs) that represent non-viral metabolic genes, such as genes involved in carbon metabolism.

Matric potentials

The potential energy of water that is due to adhesion of water molecules to soil particles.


The amount of light or radiation that is reflected from a surface.


Residue mixtures of molecules derived from microorganisms, including biomass, intracellular and extracellular biomolecules/aggregations.


Fire-derived (pyrolysed) carbon (also known as black carbon) that has been proposed as a soil carbon-storage amendment.

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Jansson, J.K., Hofmockel, K.S. Soil microbiomes and climate change. Nat Rev Microbiol 18, 35–46 (2020).

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