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Climatic Sensitivity of Dryland Soil CO2 Fluxes Differs Dramatically with Biological Soil Crust Successional State

Tucker, Colin L., Ferrenberg, Scott, Reed, Sasha C.
Ecosystems 2019 v.22 no.1 pp. 15-32
Bryophyta, Cyanobacteria, ambient temperature, arid lands, biological soil crusts, carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide production, climate, drying, ecosystems, field experimentation, lichens, models, photosynthesis, plateaus, soil temperature, uncertainty, Utah
Arid and semiarid ecosystems make up approximately 41% of Earth’s terrestrial surface and are suggested to regulate the trend and interannual variability of the global terrestrial carbon (C) sink. Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are common dryland soil surface communities of bryophytes, lichens, and/or cyanobacteria that bind the soil surface together and that may play an important role in regulating the climatic sensitivity of the dryland C cycle. Major uncertainties exist in our understanding of the interacting effects of changing temperature and moisture on CO₂ uptake (photosynthesis) and loss (respiration) from biocrust and sub-crust soil, particularly as related to biocrust successional state. Here, we used a mesocosm approach to assess how biocrust successional states related to climate treatments. We subjected bare soil (Bare), early successional lightly pigmented cyanobacterial biocrust (Early), and late successional darkly pigmented moss-lichen biocrust (Late) to either ambient or + 5°C above ambient soil temperature for 84 days. Under ambient temperatures, Late biocrust mesocosms showed frequent net uptake of CO₂, whereas Bare soil, Early biocrust, and warmed Late biocrust mesocosms mostly lost CO₂ to the atmosphere. The inhibiting effect of warming on CO₂ exchange was a result of accelerated drying of biocrust and soil. We used these data to parameterize, via Bayesian methods, a model of ecosystem CO₂ fluxes, and evaluated the model with data from an autochamber CO₂ system at our field site on the Colorado Plateau in SE Utah. In the context of the field experiment, the data underscore the negative effect of warming on fluxes both biocrust CO₂ uptake and loss—which, because biocrusts are a dominant land cover type in this ecosystem, may extend to ecosystem-scale C cycling.