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Biocrust ecology: Unifying micro- and macro-scales to confront global change

November 3, 2017

Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are communities of microbes, lichens and bryophytes living at the soil surface in drylands (Fig. 1; Belnap et al., 2016). Biocrusts occur on all continents and can comprise a majority of cover in some systems (Belnap et al., 2016). While species diversity and distributions have long been a research focus, interest in controls on community composition and cover has expanded as biocrusts are increasingly recognized for their roles in ecosystem functioning (Deane-Coe and Stanton, 2017). For example, biocrust organisms can stabilize soils (Belnap et al., 2016; Faist et al., 2017), fix atmospheric carbon (C) (Sancho et al., 2016), and serve as the foremost source of ‘new’ soil nitrogen (N) in drylands, via N2 fixation (Barger et al., 2016) These contributions to gross primary production and soil fertility could be quite large, as high-end estimates suggest biocrusts and similar communities of bryophytes and lichens might account for 10% of terrestrial C- and 50% of N-fixation globally (Elbert et al., 2012). Yet verifying these and other biocrust roles in ecosystem functioning is complicated by limited knowledge of biocrust cover and composition across the vast dryland biome (Ferrenberg et al., 2017).

It was against this backdrop that ‘Biocrust3: the 3rd International workshop on biological soil crusts’ was held in Moab, UT, USA, on 26-30 September 2016. The workshop brought together over 50 scientists from 21 countries and six continents, and included numerous biocrust science pioneers (Fig. 2). The meeting was notable for its cross-scale focus, discussion of novel molecular and imaging techniques, and sessions on mapping and restoring biocrusts in a changing world. Here, we synthesize a central theme that emerged from Biocrust3, namely the potential for combining cutting edge tools with studies focused on organismal traits, ecosystem functions, and global change biology to advance the frontier of biocrust ecology.

Publication Year 2017
Title Biocrust ecology: Unifying micro- and macro-scales to confront global change
DOI 10.1111/nph.14826
Authors Scott Ferrenberg, Sasha C. Reed
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title New Phytologist
Index ID 70193737
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center