Effects of rainfall manipulations on carbon exchange of cyanobacteria and moss-dominated biological soil crusts

Chunping Zhang, Decao Niu, Meiling Song, James Elser, Jordan Okie, Hua Fu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are a vital biotic component of dryland ecosystems that impact global nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) cycling. Water availability is the main controller of physiological function of biocrusts in these ecosystems, yet few studies have compared the carbon balance of different biocrusts responding to different water treatments. In this study, we explored the effects of water availability on carbon exchanges of different biocrusts by measuring in situ net CO2 fluxes in cyanobacteria and moss-dominated biocrusts under four water treatments (2 mm, 5 mm, 10 mm, and 20 mm) in a fenced grassland on the Loess Plateau, China. Our results indicate that water availability played a vital role in carbon balance of the biocrusts. Under higher water additions, both cyanobacteria and moss-dominated biocrusts fixed carbon but lower water additions did not always lead to net carbon gains, especially for the moss-dominated crusts. Importantly, our data indicate the existence of water thresholds for net carbon fixation of both cyanobacteria and moss-dominated biocrusts, below which carbon loss occurs. This implies that higher water availability would benefit moss growth, while lower water availability results in suitable circumstance for the growth of cyanobacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-31
Number of pages8
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
StatePublished - Sep 2018


  • Biocrusts
  • Carbon balance
  • Semi-arid region
  • Water addition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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