Soil moisture dynamics under two rainfall frequency treatments drive early spring CO2 gas exchange of lichen-dominated biocrusts in central Spain

Selina Baldauf*, Mónica Ladrón De Guevara, Fernando T. Maestre, Britta Tietjen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Biocrusts, communities dominated by mosses, lichens, cyanobacteria, and other microorganisms, largely affect the carbon cycle of drylands. As poikilohydric organisms, their activity time is often limited to short hydration events. The photosynthetic and respiratory response of biocrusts to hydration events is not only determined by the overall amount of available water, but also by the frequency and size of individual rainfall pulses. Methods: We experimentally assessed the carbon exchange of a biocrust community dominated by the lichen Diploschistes diacapsis in central Spain. We compared the effect of two simulated precipitation patterns providing the same overall amount of water, but with different pulse sizes and frequency (high frequency: five mm/day vs. low frequency: 15 mm/3 days), on net/gross photosynthesis and dark respiration. Results: Radiation and soil temperature, together with the watering treatment, affected the rates of net and gross photosynthesis, as well as dark respiration. On average, the low frequency treatment showed a 46% ± 3% (mean ± 1 SE) lower rate of net photosynthesis, a 13% ± 7% lower rate of dark respiration, and a 24% ± 8% lower rate of gross photosynthesis. However, on the days when samples of both treatments were watered, no differences between their carbon fluxes were observed. The carbon flux response of D. diacapsis was modulated by the environmental conditions and was particularly dependent on the antecedent soil moisture. Discussion: In line with other studies, we found a synergetic effect of individual pulse size, frequency, environmental conditions, and antecedent moisture on the carbon exchange fluxes of biocrusts. However, most studies on this subject were conducted in summer and they obtained results different from ours, so we conclude that there is a need for long-term experiments of manipulated precipitation impacts on the carbon exchange of biocrusts. This will enable a more complete assessment of the impacts of climate change-induced alterations in precipitation patterns on biocrust communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere5904
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2018


  • Altered precipitation
  • Biological soil crust
  • Carbon exchange
  • Drylands
  • Lichens

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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