Insights into dryland biocrust microbiome: geography, soil depth and crust type affect biocrust microbial communities and networks in Mojave Desert, USA

FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2020 Sep 1;96(9):fiaa125. doi: 10.1093/femsec/fiaa125.


Biocrusts are the living skin of drylands, comprising diverse microbial communities that are essential to desert ecosystems. Despite there being extensive knowledge on biocrust ecosystem functions and lichen and moss biodiversity, little is known about factors structuring diversity among their microbial communities. We used amplicon-based metabarcode sequencing to survey microbial communities from biocrust surface and subsurface soils at four sites located within the Mojave Desert. Five biocrust types were examined: Light-algal/Cyanobacteria, Cyanolichen, Green-algal lichen, Smooth-moss and Rough-moss crust types. Microbial diversity in biocrusts was structured by several characteristics: (i) central versus southern Mojave sites displayed different community signatures, (ii) indicator taxa of plant-associated fungi (plant pathogens and wood saprotrophs) were identified at each site, (iii) surface and subsurface microbial communities were distinct and (iv) crust types had distinct indicator taxa. Network analysis ranked bacteria-bacteria interactions as the most connected of all within-domain and cross-domain interaction networks in biocrust surface samples. Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Cyanobacteria and Ascomycota functioned as hubs among all phyla. The bacteria Pseudonocardia sp. (Pseudonocardiales, Actinobacteria) and fungus Alternaria sp. (Pleosporales, Ascomycota) were the most connected had the highest node degree. Our findings provide crucial insights for dryland microbial community ecology, conservation and sustainable management.

Keywords: Cyanobacteria; bacteria; biological crusts; desert microbes; fungi–bacteria networks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bryophyta*
  • Desert Climate
  • Ecosystem
  • Geography
  • Microbiota*
  • Soil
  • Soil Microbiology


  • Soil