Biocrusts Modulate Climate Change Effects on Soil Organic Carbon Pools: Insights From a 9-Year Experiment

Paloma Díaz-Martínez*, Marco Panettieri, Pablo García-Palacios, Eduardo Moreno, César Plaza, Fernando T. Maestre

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Accumulating evidence suggests that warming associated with climate change is decreasing the total amount of soil organic carbon (SOC) in drylands, although scientific research has not given enough emphasis to particulate (POC) and mineral-associated organic carbon (MAOC) pools. Biocrusts are a major biotic feature of drylands and have large impacts on the C cycle, yet it is largely unknown whether they modulate the responses of POC and MAOC to climate change. Here, we assessed the effects of simulated climate change (control, reduced rainfall (RE), warming (WA), and RE + WA) and initial biocrust cover (low (< 20%) versus high (> 50%)) on the mineral protection of soil C and soil organic matter quality in a dryland ecosystem in central Spain for 9 years. At low initial biocrust cover levels, both WA and RE + WA increased SOC, especially POC but also MAOC, and promoted a higher contribution of carbohydrates, relative to aromatic compounds, to the POC fraction. These results suggest that the accumulation of soil C under warming treatments may be transitory in soils with low initial biocrust cover. In soils with high initial biocrust cover, climate change treatments did not affect SOC, neither POC nor MAOC fraction. Overall, our results indicate that biocrust communities modulate the negative effect of climate change on SOC, because no losses of soil C were observed with the climate manipulations under biocrusts. Future work should focus on determining the long-term persistence of the observed buffering effect by biocrust-forming lichens, as they are known to be negatively affected by warming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)585-596
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • biocrusts
  • carbon cycling
  • climate change
  • mineral-associated organic carbon
  • nuclear magnetic resonance
  • particulate-associated organic carbon
  • soil organic matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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