Desert biological soil crusts (BSCs) are simple cyanobacteria-dominated surface soil microbial communities found on all continents in areas with infrequent wetting, often extreme temperatures, and the absence of vascular plants. They exist for extended periods in a desiccated dormant state, yet rapidly re-boot metabolism within minutes of wetting. They inhabit “the fringe” of habitability with respect to aridity, constituting the world’s largest biofilm. They serve as a mantle of fertility in arid lands, and effectively reduce erosion by colonizing highly erodible substrates.
The scale and potential sensitivity of these crusts to temperature and wetting frequency/duration make them particularly relevant to understanding the impact of climate change on soil microbial communities. Our overall goal is to provide fundamental insights into the synchronization between environmental events (e.g. precipitation frequency or freeze thaw cycles) and soil microbial activity, specifically carbon metabolism.
This program integrates the capabilities of 4 divisions: ESD (Eoin Brodie), JGI (Cheryl Kerfeld), LSD (Trent Northen), PBD (Aindrila Mukhopadhyay) and expert crust microbial ecologist at ASU (Ferran Garcia-Pichel) to develop the first metabolic and mechanistic model of a soil microbial community’s response to climate change.