Despite the importance of microbial communities for ecosystem services and human welfare, the relationship between microbial diversity and multiple ecosystem functions and services (that is, multifunctionality) at the global scale has yet to be evaluated. Here we use two independent, large-scale databases with contrasting geographic coverage (from 78 global drylands and from 179 locations across Scotland, respectively), and report that soil microbial diversity positively relates to multifunctionality in terrestrial ecosystems. The direct positive effects of microbial diversity were maintained even when accounting simultaneously for multiple multifunctionality drivers (climate, soil abiotic factors and spatial predictors). Our findings provide empirical evidence that any loss in microbial diversity will likely reduce multifunctionality, negatively impacting the provision of services such as climate regulation, soil fertility and food and fibre production by terrestrial ecosystems.
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We thank all the members of the EPES-BIOCOM research network for supplying the soil samples for this study, and Victoria Ochoa and Beatriz Gozalo for their help with the treatment of satellite images. We also thank Jasmine Grinyer for revising the English of this manuscript. This research is supported by the Australian Research Council (project DP13010484), by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013)/ERC Grant agreement n° 242658 (BIOCOM) and by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (BIOMOD project, CGL2013-44661-R). F.T.M. acknowledges support from the Salvador de Madariaga program of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports (PRX14/00225) and the Research Exchange Program of the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment.