The global land surface absorbs about a third of anthropogenic emissions each year, due to the difference between two key processes: ecosystem photosynthesis and respiration. Despite the importance of these two processes, it is not possible to measure either at the ecosystem scale during the daytime. Eddy-covariance measurements are widely used as the closest 'quasi-direct' ecosystem-scale observation from which to estimate ecosystem photosynthesis and respiration. Recent research, however, suggests that current estimates may be biased by up to 25%, due to a previously unaccounted for process: the inhibition of leaf respiration in the light. Yet the extent of inhibition remains debated, and implications for estimates of ecosystem-scale respiration and photosynthesis remain unquantified. Here, we quantify an apparent inhibition of daytime ecosystem respiration across the global FLUXNET eddy-covariance network and identify a pervasive influence that varies by season and ecosystem type. We develop partitioning methods that can detect an apparent ecosystem-scale inhibition of daytime respiration and find that diurnal patterns of ecosystem respiration might be markedly different than previously thought. The results call for the re-evaluation of global terrestrial carbon cycle models and also suggest that current global estimates of photosynthesis and respiration may be biased, some on the order of magnitude of anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions.