Global species richness patterns of soil micro-organisms remain poorly understood compared to macro-organisms. We use a global analysis to disentangle the global determinants of diversity and community composition for ectomycorrhizal (EcM) fungi—microbial symbionts that play key roles in plant nutrition in most temperate and many tropical forest ecosystems. Host plant family has the strongest effect on the phylogenetic community composition of fungi, whereas temperature and precipitation mostly affect EcM fungal richness that peaks in the temperate and boreal forest biomes, contrasting with latitudinal patterns of macro-organisms. Tropical ecosystems experience rapid turnover of organic material and have weak soil stratification, suggesting that poor habitat conditions may contribute to the relatively low richness of EcM fungi, and perhaps other soil biota, in most tropical ecosystems. For EcM fungi, greater evolutionary age and larger total area of EcM host vegetation may also contribute to the higher diversity in temperate ecosystems. Our results provide useful biogeographic and ecological hypotheses for explaining the distribution of fungi that remain to be tested by involving next-generation sequencing techniques and relevant soil metadata.