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Biological soil crusts as an organizing principle in drylands

June 21, 2016

Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) have been present on Earth’s terrestrial surfaces for billions of years. They are a critical part of ecosystem processes in dryland regions, as they cover most of the soil surface and thus mediate almost all inputs and outputs from soils in these areas. There are many intriguing, but understudied, roles these communities may play in drylands. These include their function in nutrient capture and transformation, influence on the movement and distribution of nutrients and water within dryland soils, ability to structure vascular plant communities, role in creating biodiversity hotspots, and the possibility that they can be used as indicators of soil health. There are still many fascinating aspects of these communities that need study, and we hope that this chapter will facilitate such efforts.