Environmental RNA viruses are ubiquitous and diverse, and probably have important ecological and biogeochemical impacts. Understanding the global diversity of RNA viruses is limited by sampling biases, dependence on cell culture and PCR for virus discovery, and a focus on viruses pathogenic to humans or economically important animals and plants. To address this knowledge gap, we generated metatranscriptomic sequence data from 32 diverse environments in 16 provinces and regions of China. We identified 6,624 putatively novel virus operational taxonomic units from soil, sediment and faecal samples, greatly expanding known diversity of the RNA virosphere. These newly identified viruses included positive-sense, negative-sense and double-strand RNA viruses from at least 62 families. Sediments and animal faeces were rich sources of viruses. Virome compositions were affected by local environmental factors, including organic content and eukaryote species abundance. Notably, environmental factors had a greater impact on the abundance and diversity of plant, fungal and bacterial viruses than of animal viromes. Our data confirm that RNA viruses are an integral part of both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.