Summers on the Colorado Plateau (USA) are typified by harsh conditions such as high temperatures, brief soil hydration periods, and high UV and visible radiation. We investigated whether community composition, physiological status, and pigmentation might vary in biological soil crusts as a result of such conditions. Representative surface cores were sampled at the ENE, WSW, and top microaspects of 20 individual soil crust pedicels at a single site in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, in spring and fall of 1999. Frequency of cyanobacterial taxa, pigment concentrations, and dark adapted quantum yield (Fv/Fm) were measured for each core. The frequency of major cyanobacterial taxa was lower in the fall compared to spring. The less-pigmented cyanobacterium Microcoleus vaginatus showed significant mortality when not in the presence of Nostoc spp. and Scytonema myochrous (Dillw.) Agardh. (both synthesizers of UV radiation-linked pigments) but had little or no mortality when these species were abundant. We hypothesize that the sunscreen pigments produced by Nostoc and Scytonema in the surface of crusts protect other, less-pigmented taxa. When fall and spring samples were compared, overall cyanobacterial frequency was lower in fall, while sunscreen pigment concentrations, chlorophyll a concentration, and Fv/Fm were higher in fall. The ratio of cyanobacterial frequency/chlorophyll a concentrations was 2-3 times lower in fall than spring. Because chlorophyll a is commonly used as a surrogate measure of soil cyanobacterial biomass, these results indicate that seasonality needs to be taken into consideration. In the fall sample, most pigments associated with UV radiation protection or repair were at their highest concentrations on pedicel tops and WSW microaspects, and at their lowest concentrations on ENE microaspects. We suggest that differential pigment concentrations between microaspects are induced by varying UV radiation dosage at the soil surface on these different microaspects.
Additional publication details
Temporal variation in community composition, pigmentation, and Fv/Fm of desert cyanobacterial soil crusts