Flora, vol. 192 (1997) pp. 1-15
Biotic soil crusts are a worldwide phenomenon in arid and semi-arid landscapes. Metabolic activity of the poikilohydric organisms found in these crusts is dominated by quick and drastic changes in moisture availability and long periods of drought. Under controlled conditions, we studied the role of water content on photosynthetic and respiratory CO2 exchange of three green algal soil crust lichens from a desert site in southern Utah (USA): Diploschistes diacapsis (AGH.) LUMBSCH, Psora cerebriformis W. WEBER, and Squamarina lentigera (WEBER) POELT. Photosynthetic metabolism is activated by extremely small amounts of moisture; lower compensation values for net photosynthesis (NP) are reached between 0.05 and 0.27 mm of precipitation equivalent. Thus, the lichens can use very low degrees of hydration for carbon gain. Maximal NP occurs between 0.39 and 0.94 mm precipitation equivalent, and area-related rates equal 2.6-5.2 mu mol CO2 m(-2)s(-1). All three tested species show 'sun plant' features, including high light requirements for CO2 exchange compensation and for NP saturation. Diploschistes diacapsis maintains high rates of NP at full water saturation. In contrast, suprasaturated thalli of the other two species show a strong depression in NP which can be removed or reduced by increased external CO, concentration. Consequently, this depression is most probably caused by increased thallus diffusive resistances due to pathway blockage by water. This depression will greatly limit carbon gain of these species in the field after heavy rain. It occurs at all temperatures of ecological relevance and also under conditions of low light. However, maximum water holding capacity of P. cerebriformis and S. lentigera is higher than that of D. diacapsis. This could mean that periods of hydration favorable for metabolic activity for those two species last longer than those of D. diacapsis. This might compensate for their lower rates of NP during suprasaturation. Thus, two different strategies might have developed for lichen existence in the specific and extreme arid soil crust habitat. Data about habitat conditions for the different lichen species are needed in older to test this hypothesis and to allow interpretation and prediction of performance of these soil crust lichens in nature.
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