Rainfall pulse regime drives biomass and community composition in biological soil crusts

Vanessa M. C. Fernandes, Jennifer A. Rudgers, Scott L. Collins, Ferran Garcia-Pichel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Future climates will alter the frequency and size of rain events in drylands, potentially affecting soil microbes that generate carbon feedbacks to climate, but field tests are rare. Topsoils in drylands are commonly colonized by biological soil crusts (biocrusts), photosynthesis-based communities that provide services ranging from soil fertilization to stabilization against erosion. We quantified responses of biocrust microbial communities to 12 years of altered rainfall regimes, with 60 mm of additional rain per year delivered either as small (5 mm) weekly rains or large (20 mm) monthly rains during the summer monsoon season. Rain addition promoted microbial diversity, suppressed the dominant cyanobacterium, Microcoleus vaginatus, and enhanced nitrogen-fixing taxa, but did not consistently increase microbial biomass. The addition of many small rain events increased microbial biomass, whereas few, large events did not. These results alter the physiological paradigm that biocrusts are most limited by the amount of rainfall and instead predict that regimes enriched in small rain events will boost cyanobacterial biocrusts and enhance their beneficial services to drylands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere3744
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2022


  • arid lands
  • biocrusts
  • climate change
  • cyanobacteria
  • rainfall variability
  • soil microbiomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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