Climate change and physical disturbance manipulations result in distinct biological soil crust communities.

Applied and Environmental Microbiology 81(21):7448 (2015) PMID 26276111 PMCID PMC4592851

Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) colonize plant interspaces in many drylands and are critical to soil nutrient cycling. Multiple climate change and land use factors have been shown to detrimentally impact biocrusts on a macroscopic (i.e., visual) scale. However, the impact of these perturbations on the bacterial components of the biocrusts remains poorly understood. We employed multiple long-term field experiments to assess the impacts of chronic physical (foot trampling) and climatic changes (2°C soil warming, altered summer precipitation [wetting], and combined warming and wetting) on biocrust bacterial biomass, composition, and metabolic profile. The biocrust bacterial communities adopted distinct states based on the mechanism of disturbance. Chronic trampling decreased biomass and caused small community compositional changes. Soil warming had little effect on biocrust biomass or composition, while wetting resulted in an increase in the cyanobacterial biomass and altered bacterial composition. Warming combined with wetting dramatically altered bacterial composition and decreased Cyanobacteria abundance. Shotgun metagenomic sequencing identified four functional gene categories that differed in relative abundance among the manipulations, suggesting that climate and land use changes affected soil bacterial functional potential. This study illustrates that different types of biocrust disturbance damage biocrusts in macroscopically similar ways, but they differentially impact the resident soil bacterial communities, and the communities' functional profiles can differ depending on the disturbance type. Therefore, the nature of the perturbation and the microbial response are important considerations for management and restoration of drylands. Copyright © 2015, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

DOI: 10.1128/AEM.01443-15