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Microbial earths are communities of microscopic organisms living in well-drained soil. Unlike aquatic microbial mats and stromatolites, microbial earths are sheltered from ultraviolet radiation, desiccation, and other surficial hazards within soil cracks and grain interstices. Currently, such ecosystems are best known in small areas of unusually cold, hot, or saline soils unfavorable to multicellular plants and animals. During the Precambrian, microbial earths may have been more widespread, but few examples have been reported. This review outlines a variety of features of modern microbial earths that can be used to distinguish them from aquatic microbial mats and stromatolites in the...

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