Factors governing large-scale spatio-temporal distribution of microorganisms remain unresolved, yet are pivotal to understanding ecosystem value and function. Molecular genetic analyses have focused on the influence of niche and neutral processes in determining spatial patterns without considering the temporal scale. Here, we use temporal phylogenetic analysis calibrated using microfossil data for a globally sampled desert cyanobacterium, Chroococcidiopsis, to investigate spatio-temporal patterns in microbial biogeography and evolution. Multilocus phylogenetic associations were dependent on contemporary climate with no evidence for distance-related patterns. Massively parallel pyrosequencing of environmental samples confirmed that Chroococcidiopsis variants were specific to either hot or cold deserts. Temporally scaled phylogenetic analyses showed no evidence of recent inter-regional gene flow, indicating populations have not shared common ancestry since before the formation of modern continents. These results indicate that global distribution of desert cyanobacteria has not resulted from widespread contemporary dispersal but is an ancient evolutionary legacy. This highlights the importance of considering temporal scales in microbial biogeography.