Soil photoautotrophic prokaryotes and micro-eukaryotes – known as soil algae – are, together with heterotrophic microorganisms, a constitutive part of the microbiome in surface soils. Similar to plants, they fix atmospheric carbon (C) through photosynthesis for their own growth, yet their contribution to global and regional biogeochemical C cycling still remains quantitatively elusive. Here, we compiled an extensive dataset on soil algae to generate a better understanding of their distribution across biomes and predict their productivity at a global scale by means of machine learning modelling. We found that, on average, (5.5 ± 3.4) × 106 algae inhabit each gram of surface soil. Soil algal abundance especially peaked in acidic, moist and vegetated soils. We estimate that, globally, soil algae take up around 3.6 Pg C per year, which corresponds to c. 6% of the net primary production of terrestrial vegetation. We demonstrate that the C fixed by soil algae is crucial to the global C cycle and should be integrated into land-based efforts to mitigate C emissions.
- microbial photosynthesis
- net primary productivity (NPP)
- soil carbon (C) cycle
- soil microbiome