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Decline in biological soil crust N-fixing lichens linked to increasing summertime temperatures

April 11, 2022
Across many global drylands, biocrusts form a protective barrier on the soil surface and fill many critical roles in these harsh yet fragile environments. Previous short-term research suggests that climate change and invasive plant introduction can damage and alter biocrust communities, yet few long-term observations exist. Using a globally unique long-term record of continuous biocrust surveys from a rare never-grazed, protected grassland on the US Colorado Plateau, we found lichen species diversity and cover to be negatively correlated with increasing summer air temperatures, while moss species showed more sensitivity to variation in precipitation and invasive grass cover. These results suggest that dryland systems may be at a critical tipping point where ongoing warming could result in biological soil crust degradation.

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