April 3, 2024
Journal Article

Warming decreases desert ecosystem functioning by altering biocrusts in drylands


1. Warming and precipitation fluctuations are changing desert ecosystems in global drylands. However, the effects of climate change on keystone species such as cryptogamic biocrust in drylands remain relatively under-investigated, even though biocrusts play a vital role in desert ecosystems. 2. Weconductedalong-termexperiment(14 years)tosimulatetheresponsesoftwo main types of biocrusts to warming coupled with reduction in precipitation that was achieved by open-top chambers (OTCs) to simulate the predicted warming and precipitation decreasing under climate change scenario. We also conduct a structural analysis to evaluate the resulting changes in desert ecosystem func- tioning (carbon and nitrogen cycling). 3. Neither warming and corresponding rainfall reduction treatments had a negative effect on lichen species richness, but both treatments reduced lichen cover and biomass. The negative effects of warming on moss-dominated crusts were much greater than those on lichen-dominated crusts. Although mosses and lichens had varying degree responses to warming, the loss of mosses and decreased lichen cover and biomass, as well as the shortening of the wet time, resulted in a re- duction in carbon and nitrogen fixation, soil enzyme activity and water-holding capacity of biocrusts and topsoil. These impacts collectively change the water balance of drylands and weaken the hydrological and biogeochemical function of biocrusts. 4. Synthesis and applications: Results from this long-term experiment suggest that the ecosystem C and N cycling and water balance of global drylands may be highly impacted by climate change, in part because of the response of biocrusts, which contribute an important implication for both dryland restoration and earth system dynamics.

Published: April 3, 2024


Li X., J. Sun, H. Zhang, H. Tan, R. Hui, J. Qi, and P. Zhang, et al. 2023. Warming decreases desert ecosystem functioning by altering biocrusts in drylands. Journal of Applied Ecology 60, no. 12:2676-2687. PNNL-SA-176642. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.14528

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