Biological soil crusts increase the resistance of soil nitrogen dynamics to changes in temperatures in a semi-arid ecosystem

Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo*, Fernando T. Maestre, Antonio Gallardo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Aims: Biological soil crusts (BSCs), composed of mosses, lichens, liverworts and cyanobacteria, are a key component of arid and semi-arid ecosystems worldwide, and play key roles modulating several aspects of the nitrogen (N) cycle, such as N fixation and mineralization. While the performance of its constituent organisms largely depends on moisture and rainfall conditions, the influence of these environmental factors on N transformations under BSC soils has not been evaluated before. Methods: The study was done using soils collected from areas devoid of vascular plants with and without lichen-dominated BSCs from a semi-arid Stipa tenacissima grassland. Soil samples were incubated under different temperature (T) and soil water content (SWC) conditions, and changes in microbial biomass-N, dissolved organic nitrogen (DON), amino acids, ammonium, nitrate and both inorganic N were monitored. To evaluate how BSCs modulate the resistance of the soil to changes in T and SWC, we estimated the Orwin and Wardle Resistance index. Results: The different variables studied were more affected by changes in T than by variations in SWC at both BSC-dominated and bare ground soils. However, under BSCs, a change in the dominance of N processes from a net nitrification to a net ammonification was observed at the highest SWC, regardless of T. Conclusions: Our results suggest that the N cycle is more resistant to changes in T in BSC-dominated than in bare ground areas. They also indicate that BSCs could play a key role in minimizing the likely impacts of climate change on the dynamics of N in semi-arid environments, given the prevalence and cover of these organisms worldwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-47
Number of pages13
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 2013


  • DON
  • N depolymerization rate
  • N mineralization rate
  • Semiarid ecosystem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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