Soil bacteria are key to ecosystem function and maintenance of soil fertility. Leveraging associations of current geographic distributions of bacteria with historic climate, we predict that soil bacterial diversity will increase across the majority (∼75%) of the Tibetan Plateau and northern North America if bacterial communities equilibrate with existing climatic conditions. This prediction is possible because the current distributions of soil bacteria have stronger correlations with climate from ∼50 years ago than with current climate. This lag is likely associated with the time it takes for soil properties to adjust to changes in climate. The predicted changes are location specific and differ across bacterial taxa, including some bacteria that are predicted to have reductions in their distributions. These findings illuminate the widespread potential of climate change to influence belowground diversity and the importance of considering bacterial communities when assessing climate impacts on terrestrial ecosystems. IMPORTANCE There have been many studies highlighting how plant and animal communities lag behind climate change, causing extinction and diversity debts that will slowly be paid as communities equilibrate. By virtue of their short generation times and dispersal abilities, soil bacteria might be expected to respond to climate change quickly and to be effectively in equilibrium with current climatic conditions. We found strong evidence to the contrary in Tibet and North America. These findings could significantly improve understanding of climate impacts on soil microbial communities.
Keywords: biogeography; climate change; diversity; microbial biogeography; niche modeling; soil bacterial diversity; soil microbiology.