In regions with more rainfall historically, soil microbes were found to respire twice as much carbon to the atmosphere as microbes from drier regions. Scientists determined that this was because the microbes responded differently to change: Those from the wettest areas were four times as sensitive to shifts in moisture as their counterparts from the driest areas.
“Because microbes are small and enormously diverse, we have this idea that when the environment changes, microbes can rapidly move around or shift local abundances to track that environmental change,” Hawkes said. “We discovered, however, that soil microbes and their functions are highly resistant to change. Resistance to environmental change matters because it means that previous local conditions will constrain how ecosystems function when faced with a shift in climate.”