Protists are ubiquitous in soil, where they are key contributors to nutrient cycling and energy transfer. However, protists have received far less attention than other components of the soil microbiome. We used amplicon sequencing of soils from 180 locations across six continents to investigate the ecological preferences of protists and their functional contributions to belowground systems. We complemented these analyses with shotgun metagenomic sequencing of 46 soils to validate the identities of the more abundant protist lineages. We found that most soils are dominated by consumers, although parasites and phototrophs are particularly abundant in tropical and arid ecosystems, respectively. The best predictors of protist composition (primarily annual precipitation) are fundamentally distinct from those shaping bacterial and archaeal communities (namely, soil pH). Some protists and bacteria co-occur globally, highlighting the potential importance of these largely undescribed belowground interactions. Together, this study allowed us to identify the most abundant and ubiquitous protists living in soil, with our work providing a cross-ecosystem perspective on the factors structuring soil protist communities and their likely contributions to soil functioning.
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