Warming reduces the cover, richness and evenness of lichen-dominated biocrusts but promotes moss growth: insights from an 8 yr experiment

New Phytol. 2018 Nov;220(3):811-823. doi: 10.1111/nph.15000. Epub 2018 Jan 30.


Despite the important role that biocrust communities play in maintaining ecosystem structure and functioning in drylands world-wide, few studies have evaluated how climate change will affect them. Using data from an 8-yr-old manipulative field experiment located in central Spain, we evaluated how warming, rainfall exclusion and their combination affected the dynamics of biocrust communities in areas that initially had low (< 20%, LIBC plots) and high (> 50%, HIBC plots) biocrust cover. Warming reduced the richness (35 ± 6%), diversity (25 ± 8%) and cover (82 ± 5%) of biocrusts in HIBC plots. The presence and abundance of mosses increased with warming through time in these plots, although their growth rate was much lower than the rate of lichen death, resulting in a net loss of biocrust cover. On average, warming caused a decrease in the abundance (64 ± 7%) and presence (38 ± 24%) of species in the HIBC plots. Over time, lichens and mosses colonized the LIBC plots, but this process was hampered by warming in the case of lichens. The observed reductions in the cover and diversity of lichen-dominated biocrusts with warming will lessen the capacity of drylands such as that studied here to sequester atmospheric CO2 and to provide other key ecosystem services associated to these communities.

Keywords: biocrust cover; biological soil crust; climate change; drylands; evenness; lichens; mosses; richness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity
  • Bryophyta / growth & development*
  • Climate Change*
  • Lichens / physiology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Time Factors