Climate change and physical disturbance manipulations result in distinct biological soil crust communities

Applied and Environmental Microbiology
By: , and 



Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) colonize plant interspaces in many drylands and are critical to soil nutrient cycling. Multiple climate change and land use factors have been shown to detrimentally impact biocrusts on a macroscopic (i.e., visual) scale. However, the impact of these perturbations on the bacterial components of the biocrusts remain poorly understood. We employed multiple long-term field experiments to assess the impacts of chronic physical (foot trampling) and climatic changes (2 °C soil warming, altered summer precipitation (wetting), and combined warming and wetting) on biocrust bacterial biomass, composition, and metabolic profile. The biocrust bacterial communities adopted distinct states based on the mechanism of disturbance. Chronic trampling decreased biomass and caused small community compositional change. Soil warming had little effect on biocrust biomass or composition, while wetting resulted in an increase in cyanobacterial biomass and altered bacterial composition. Warming combined with wetting dramatically altered bacterial composition and decreased cyanobacteria abundance. Shotgun metagenomic sequencing identified four functional gene categories that differed in relative abundance among the manipulations, suggesting that climate and land use changes affected soil bacterial functional potential. This study illustrates that different types of biocrust disturbance damage biocrusts in macroscopically similar ways, but they differentially impact the resident soil bacterial communities and the community functional profile can differ depending on the disturbance type. Therefore, the nature of the perturbation and the microbial response are important considerations for management and restoration of drylands.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Climate change and physical disturbance manipulations result in distinct biological soil crust communities
Series title Applied and Environmental Microbiology
DOI 10.1128/AEM.01443-15
Volume 81
Issue 21
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher American Society for Microbiology
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 12 p.
First page 7448
Last page 7459
Country United States
State Utah
Other Geospatial Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Castle Valley, Island in the Sky District,
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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