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Biological and microbial activity in biological soil crusts from the Tabernas desert, a sub-arid zone in SE Spain

Miralles, Isabel, Domingo, Francisco, García-Campos, Elena, Trasar-Cepeda, Carmen, Leirós, M. Carmen, Gil-Sotres, Fernando
Soil biology & biochemistry 2012 v.55 pp. 113-121
Mediterranean climate, ammonification, arid zones, bioactive properties, biological activity in soil, carbon, deserts, ecology, enzymes, lichens, microorganisms, mineralization, nitrification, nitrogen, soil colloids, soil crusts, soil horizons, Spain
The ecology and functional role of biological soil crusts (BSCs) in arid and semi-arid zones have been extremely well studied. However, little is known about the biochemical properties related to the number and activity of the microbiota that form the crusts, even though information about these properties is very important for understanding many of the processes that affect the formations. In this study, several properties related to the activity and number of microorganisms (biomass-C, basal respiration, dehydrogenase activity and nitrogen mineralization potential) were determined at different depths (crusts, 0–0.5 cm; middle, 0.5–3 cm and deep, 3–5 cm layers) in two types of crusts (predominated by cyanobacteria and by lichens) in the Tabernas desert (Almeria, SE Spain). The absolute values of the above-mentioned properties and the values expressed relative to the total organic carbon (TOC) content were both much higher in the crust layers than in the surface horizons of soils under Mediterranean or Atlantic climates. A large part of the TOC in the BSCs was contained in the microbiota and another large part was readily metabolized during incubation of the crusts for 10 days at 25 °C. The net nitrogen mineralization rate was also high, and ammonification predominated in the crust layers, whereas nitrification predominated in the middle and deep layers. In all types of BSCs, the microbiota colonized the deep layers, although with greater intensity in the lichen-dominated BSCs than in the cyanobacterial BSCs. The results also indicate that hydrolytic enzymes are not stabilized on soil colloids and their activity depends only on the active microbiota.