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Global change and biological soil crusts: effects of ultraviolet augmentation under altered precipitation regimes and nitrogen additions

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Biological soil crusts (BSCs), a consortium of cyanobacteria, lichens, and mosses, are essential in most dryland ecosystems. As these organisms are relatively immobile and occur on the soil surface, they are exposed to high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation and atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition, rising temperatures, and alterations in precipitation patterns. In this study, we applied treatments to three types of BSCs (early, medium, and late successional) over three time periods (spring, summer, and spring–fall). In the first year, we augmented UV and altered precipitation patterns, and in the second year, we augmented UV and N. In the first year, with average air temperatures, we saw little response to our treatments except quantum yield, which was reduced in dark BSCs during one of three sample times and in Collema BSCs two of three sample times. There was more response to UV augmentation the second year when air temperatures were above average. Declines were seen in 21% of the measured variables, including quantum yield, chlorophyll a, UV-protective pigments, nitrogenase activity, and extracellular polysaccharides. N additions had some negative effects on light and dark BSCs, including the reduction of quantum yield, -carotene, nitrogenase activity, scytonemin, and xanthophylls. N addition had no effects on the Collema BSCs. When N was added to samples that had received augmented UV, there were only limited effects relative to samples that received UV without N. These results indicate that the negative effect of UV and altered precipitation on BSCs will be heightened as global temperatures increase, and that as their ability to produce UV-protective pigments is compromised, physiological functioning will be impaired. N deposition will only ameliorate UV impacts in a limited number of cases. Overall, increases in UV will likely lead to lowered productivity and increased mortality in BSCs through time, which, in turn, will reduce their ability to contribute to the stability and fertility of soils in dryland regions.
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Keywords: climate change; cyanobacteria; deserts; drylands; lichens; microbiotic soil crusts; semiarid

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: US Geological Survey, Southwest Biological Science Center, Canyonlands Research Station, 2290 S. West Resource Blvd., Moab, UT 84532, USA, 2: The Ecology Center, Utah State University, 5230 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322-5230, USA, 3: Department of Animal and Range Science, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003, USA,

Publication date: 2008-03-01

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