Litter Decomposition Rates of Biocrust-Forming Lichens Are Similar to Those of Vascular Plants and Are Affected by Warming

Miguel Berdugo*, Dinorah O. Mendoza-Aguilar, Ana Rey, Victoria Ochoa, Beatriz Gozalo, Laura García-Huss, Fernando T. Maestre

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Despite the high relevance of communities dominated by lichens, mosses and cyanobacteria living on the soil surface (biocrusts) for ecosystem functioning in drylands, no study to date has investigated the decomposition of biocrust-forming lichen litter in situ. Thus, we do not know whether the drivers of its decomposition are similar to those for plant litter (for example, importance of abiotic degradation through UV radiation), the magnitude of lichen decomposition rates and whether they will be affected by ongoing climate change. Here we report the results from a litter decomposition experiment carried out with two biocrust-forming lichens (Diploschistes diacapsis and Cladonia convoluta) that differ in litter chemical quality (C:N ratio) in central Spain. We evaluated how lichen decomposition was affected by warming, rainfall exclusion and their combination. We also manipulated the incidence of UV radiation using mesh material that blocked 10% or 90% of incoming UV radiation. Our results indicate that lichens decompose as fast as some plants typical of the study area (k ~ 0.3 y−1). We observed differences among the species studied in line with what is expected according to their chemical composition. Warming increased decomposition rates of both lichen species by 28% and mediated the effects of photodegradation. Although UV exposure accelerated the decomposition of D. diacapsis, it slowed that of C. convoluta. Our results indicate that biocrust-forming lichens can decompose in the field at a rate similar to that of vascular plants and that this process will be affected by warming. The findings presented emphasize the need of considering biocrusts and the decomposition of their tissues when honing ecosystem models aiming to forecast carbon cycling responses to climate change in drylands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1531-1544
Number of pages14
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC part of Springer Nature.


  • Biological soil crust
  • Climate change experiment
  • Drylands
  • Global warming
  • Lichen litter decomposition
  • Photodegradation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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