Biocrusts buffer against the accumulation of soil metallic nutrients induced by warming and rainfall reduction

Eduardo Moreno-Jiménez*, Raúl Ochoa-Hueso, César Plaza, Sara Aceña-Heras, Maren Flagmeier, Fatima Z. Elouali, Victoria Ochoa, Beatriz Gozalo, Roberto Lázaro, Fernando T. Maestre

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The availability of metallic nutrients in dryland soils, many of which are essential for the metabolism of soil organisms and vascular plants, may be altered due to climate change-driven increases in aridity. Biocrusts, soil surface communities dominated by lichens, bryophytes and cyanobacteria, are ecosystem engineers known to exert critical functions in dryland ecosystems. However, their role in regulating metallic nutrient availability under climate change is uncertain. Here, we evaluated whether well-developed biocrusts modulate metallic nutrient availability in response to 7 years of experimental warming and rainfall reduction in a Mediterranean dryland located in southeastern Spain. We found increases in the availability of K, Mg, Zn and Na under warming and rainfall exclusion. However, the presence of a well-developed biocrust cover buffered these effects, most likely because its constituents can uptake significant quantities of available metallic nutrients. Our findings suggest that biocrusts, a biotic community prevalent in drylands, exert an important role in preserving and protecting metallic nutrients in dryland soils from leaching and erosion. Therefore, we highlight the need to protect them to mitigate undesired effects of soil degradation driven by climate change in this globally expanding biome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number325
JournalCommunications Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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