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Contribution of cryptogamic covers to the global cycles of carbon and nitrogen

Nature Geoscience volume 5, pages 459462 (2012) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Many terrestrial surfaces, including soils, rocks and plants, are covered by photoautotrophic communities, capable of synthesizing their own food from inorganic substances using sunlight as an energy source1,2. These communities, known as cryptogamic covers, comprise variable proportions of cyanobacteria, algae, fungi, lichens and bryophytes, and are able to fix carbon dioxide and nitrogen from the atmosphere3. However, their influence on global and regional biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nitrogen has not yet been assessed. Here, we analyse previously published data on the spatial coverage of cryptogamic communities, and the associated fluxes of carbon and nitrogen, in different types of ecosystem across the globe. We estimate that globally, cryptogamic covers take up around 3.9 Pg carbon per year, corresponding to around 7% of net primary production by terrestrial vegetation. We derive a nitrogen uptake by cryptogamic covers of around 49 Tg per year, suggesting that cryptogamic covers account for nearly half of the biological nitrogen fixation on land. We suggest that nitrogen fixation by cryptogamic covers may be crucial for carbon sequestration by plants.

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Acknowledgements

This work has been supported by the Max Planck Society, the German Research Foundation (BU 666/3, 4, 5, 11, WE2393/2-1, 2-2), the Geocycles Cluster Mainz (LEC Rheinland-Pfalz) and the European Commission (PEGASOS, grant no. 265148). We gratefully acknowledge E. Falge for support in the determination of leaf area indices and O. L. Lange for helpful comments.

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Affiliations

  1. Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, PO Box 3060, 55020 Mainz, Germany

    • Wolfgang Elbert
    • , Susannah Burrows
    • , Jörg Steinkamp
    • , Meinrat O. Andreae
    •  & Ulrich Pöschl
  2. University of Kaiserslautern, Department Biology, Plant Ecology and Systematics, PO Box 3049, 67653 Kaiserslautern, Germany

    • Bettina Weber
    •  & Burkhard Büdel
  3. Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt, Germany

    • Jörg Steinkamp
  4. Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung, Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt, Germany

    • Jörg Steinkamp

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Contributions

W.E., B.W., B.B. and U.P. conceived the study. W.E. and B.W. collected flux and coverage data. S.B. and J.S. contributed ecosystem classifications. B.B. and B.W. provided photographs. W.E., B.W., S.B., J.S., B.B., M.O.A. and U.P. wrote the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Bettina Weber or Ulrich Pöschl.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1486

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