"Just as our skin is key to our well-being, the “skin” covering desert soils is
essential to life in dry places. This “biocrust,” made up of fungi, lichens,
mosses, blue-green algae, and other microbes, retains water and produces
nutrients that other organisms can use. Now, new research shows climate change
is destroying the integrity of this skin.
Such “biocrusts” cover 12% of all land on Earth, so keeping them healthy is
essential for the health of the planet. As they disappear, deserts may expand,
says Bettina Weber, an ecologist at the University of Graz who was not involved
with the work.
Until the 1980s, few scientists paid much mind to the crunching underfoot while
traipsing through grasslands, deserts, and other drylands. The crackling, it
turns out, comes from centuries-old conglomerations of life that help retain
what little water there is and produce life-sustaining nutrients such as
nitrogen and carbon. “Biocrusts play critical roles in arid ecosystems,” says
Trent Northen, a biochemist studying microbial communities at Lawrence Berkeley
Researchers had assumed anything in a biocrust could take the heat, given that
they thrive where it’s dry and hot. But in 2013, scientists discovered climate
change is changing the microbial composition of biocrusts. A new survey of
these organisms in a pristine grassland in Canyonlands National Park in Utah
has uncovered a hidden vulnerability of some of the lichens in these crusts."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics