Biocrusts modulate warming and rainfall exclusion effects on soil respiration in a semi-arid grassland

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Soil surface communities composed of cyanobacteria, algae, mosses, liverworts, fungi, bacteria and lichens (biocrusts) largely affect soil respiration in dryland ecosystems. Climate change is expected to have large effects on biocrusts and associated ecosystem processes. However, few studies so far have experimentally assessed how expected changes in temperature and rainfall will affect soil respiration in biocrust-dominated ecosystems. We evaluated the impacts of biocrust development, increased air temperature and decreased precipitation on soil respiration dynamics during dry (2009) and wet (2010) years, and investigated the relative importance of soil temperature and moisture as environmental drivers of soil respiration, in a semiarid grassland from central Spain. Soil respiration rates were significantly lower in the dry than in the wet year, regardless of biocrust cover. Warming increased soil respiration rates, but this response was only significant in biocrust-dominated areas (>50% biocrust cover). Warming also increased the temperature sensitivity (Q10 values) of soil respiration in biocrust-dominated areas, particularly during the wet year. The combination of warming and rainfall exclusion had similar effects in low biocrust cover areas. Our results highlight the importance of biocrusts as a modulator of soil respiration responses to both warming and rainfall exclusion, and indicate that they must be explicitly considered when evaluating soil respiration responses to climate change in drylands.




Escolar, C., Maestre, F. T., & Rey, A. (2015). Biocrusts modulate warming and rainfall exclusion effects on soil respiration in a semi-arid grassland. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 80, 9–17.

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