Our future climate depends partly on soil microbes — but how are they affected by climate change?

The largest terrestrial carbon sink on Earth is the planet’s soil. One of the big fears is that a warming planet will liberate significant portions of the soil’s carbon, turning it into carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, and so further accelerate the pace of planetary warming. A key player in this story is the microbe, the predominant form of life on Earth, and which can either turn organic carbon — the fallen leaves, rotting tree stumps, dead roots and other organic matter — into soil, or release it into the atmosphere as CO2. Now, an international team of researchers has helped to untangle one of the knottiest questions involving soil microbes and climate change: what effect does a warming planet have on the microbes’ carbon cycling?The largest terrestrial carbon sink on Earth is the planet’s soil. One of the big fears is that a warming planet will liberate significant portions of the soil’s carbon, turning it into carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, and so further accelerate the pace of planetary warming. A key player in this story is the microbe, the predominant form of life on Earth, and which can either turn organic carbon — the fallen leaves, rotting tree stumps, dead roots and other organic matter — into soil, or release it into the atmosphere as CO2. Now, an international team of researchers has helped to untangle one of the knottiest questions involving soil microbes and climate change: what effect does a warming planet have on the microbes’ carbon cycling?

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