Environmental microbiology

Soil surface communities bite the dust

Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are communities of photoautotrophic cyanobacteria, algae and lichens that co-exist with heterotrophic fungi, bacteria and archaea, forming encrusted layers in the soil surface of arid ecosystems. Biocrusts cover 12% of the Earth's terrestrial surface, are important for soil stability and water availability and contribute to the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nitrogen. In a recent article, Rodriguez-Caballero et al. reported that biocrusts could be endangered by anthropogenic activities and climate change. The authors analysed data from >500 studies and used modelling to predict changes in the worldwide distribution of biocrusts in response to changes in land use and climate. They estimate that by 2070, biocrusts will decrease by 25–40%, which will cause massive reductions in the microbial contribution to nitrogen cycling and increase soil dust emissions, with broad implications for geological systems and human health.

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    Rodriguez-Caballero, E. et al. Dryland photoautotrophic soil surface communities endangered by global change. Nat. Geosci. 11, 185–189 (2018)

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York, A. Soil surface communities bite the dust. Nat Rev Microbiol 16, 261 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro.2018.34

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