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Functional diversity of Biocrusts: towards ecosystem services quantification in drylands

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Biocrust – broadening the understanding of Earth Skin

Researchers have made efforts to quantify the role of soil organisms like lichens and mosses to ecosystem services in dryland environments.

Climate Change and Environment

Drylands are home to biocrusts such as soil lichens, mosses and cyanobacteria, which affect how ecosystems functions and we use their functional diversity (key concept in ecological research) as indicators of ecosystem services. The BCSES (Functional diversity of biocrusts: Towards ecosystem services quantification in drylands) initiative aimed to fully understand the contribution of biocrusts to the ecosystems of drylands. Researchers performed intensive and extensive field and laboratory work, together with advanced statistical analyses. They tested the effects of biocrust functional traits on ecosystems, and investigated how environmental factors contribute to the composition of biocrusts. The information gained is useful to construct a model that would predict the proportion of biocrust components. BCSES found an abundance of biocrusts across environmental changes such as climatic disturbance in the Mediterranean region, from the ecosystem level to the functional unit level. The team also found that biocrust is dominant in regions with medium to high aridity. Researchers furthermore noticed that biocrust-type abundance was affected by different i) soil properties such as soil texture and pH, and ii) grazing regime, which may affect which may affect the nutrient cycles and water and temperature dynamics at the soil-atmosphere interphase in these environments. This knowledge allows to develop more integrative frameworks for ecosystem services assessment in drylands; e.g. how grazing activity trades-off ecosystem services provided by biocrusts. This work is set to contribute to the protection and restoration of biocrust communities and soil functioning and services where natural resources are scarce.


Biocrust, drylands, functional diversity, BCSES, ecosystem

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