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Nearly Two-Thirds of All Species Live in the Ground, Scientists Estimate

Soils are more rich in life than coral reefs or rainforest canopies, providing a home to nearly two-thirds of all species, according to a sprawling new analysis.

The study is the first to tally the total number of soil dwellers, large and small, finding that more than twice as many species live in the ground as was previously thought.

For the analysis, scientists amassed estimates of how many bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, and other creatures reside in soils. They found that 59 percent of all species depend on soil for their survival, including 90 percent of fungi, 86 percent of plants, and 40 percent of bacteria. The analysis was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings highlight the urgent need to protect soils, which are under growing threat from heat, drought, flooding, and intensive farming, said the study’s lead author Mark Anthony, of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow, and Landscape Research.

“Our study shows that the diversity in soils is great and correspondingly important,” he said, “so they should be given much more consideration in conservation.”

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