Viral infections mediate microbial controls on ecosystem responses to global warming
Climate change is affecting how energy and matter flow within ecosystems, altering global carbon and nutrient cycles. Microorganisms play a fundamental role in carbon and nutrient cycling and are thus an integral link between ecosystems and climate. Here, we highlight a major black box hindering our ability to anticipate ecosystem climate responses: viral infections within complex microbial food webs. We show how understanding and predicting ecosystem responses to warming could be challenging—if not impossible—without accounting for the direct and indirect effects of viral infections on different microbes (bacteria, fungi, protists) that together perform diverse ecosystem functions. Importantly, understanding how rising temperatures associated with climate change influence viruses and virus-host dynamics is crucial to this task, yet severely understudied. In this perspective, we 1) synthesize existing knowledge about virus-microbe-temperature interactions and 2) identify important gaps to guide future investigations regarding how climate change might alter microbial food web effects on ecosystem functioning. To provide real-world context, we consider how these processes may operate in peatlands—globally significant carbon sinks that are threatened by climate change. We stress that understanding how warming affects biogeochemical cycles in any ecosystem hinges on disentangling complex interactions and temperature responses within microbial food webs.