Plant and Soil

, Volume 386, Issue 1–2, pp 263–272 | Cite as

Effects of freeze–thaw cycles on the soil nutrient balances, infiltration, and stability of cyanobacterial soil crusts in northern China

  • Weibo Wang
  • Xiao Shu
  • Quanfa Zhang
  • René Guénon
Regular Article



Freeze–thaw fluctuation is a natural phenomenon, which is frequently encountered by biological soil crusts (BSCs) in late autumn and early spring in cold deserts. The objective of our study was to investigate the effects of freeze–thaw cycles (FTCs) on the soil nutrient balances, infiltration, and stability of cyanobacterial soil crusts (CSCs) in the temperate desert region.


A controlled incubation experiment was carried out to study the effects of diurnal freeze–thaw cycles (FTCs) on total soil carbon (TC), total soil nitrogen (TN), soil TC/TN, hydraulic conductivity, and strength of light and dark cyanobacterial crusts, respectively. Six successive diurnal FTCs were applied as three temperature regimes (i.e., six successive mild FTCs (mild), six successive severe FTCs (severe), three successive mild FTCs followed by three successive severe FTCs (medium)). The experiment intended to simulate natural temperature changes in one of the temperate regions of northern China.


Compared with dark CSCs cores, light CSCs cores lost a greater proportion of nitrogen. For both crust cores, severe FTCs decreased TC and TN more than mild FTCs. However, TC and TN remained relative constant when CSCs cores were treated with severe FTCs after experiencing mild FTCs. TC and TN of both CSCs cores decreased in the earlier FTCs and then remained stable in the later FTCs. TC/TN increased significantly for light CSCs, but only changed slightly for dark CSCs after successive FTCs. The effects of FTCs on the hydraulic conductivity and strength of CSCs were not consistent with our expectations that FTCs would increase hydrological conductivity and decrease strength. These effects depended on crust type, FTC number, and freeze/thaw intensity. Increase in hydraulic conductivity and decrease in strength only occurred in severe treatment in the dark CSCs during the later FTCs.


Light CSCs are more sensitive to FTCs than dark CSCs. Mild FTCs decrease less TC and TN than severe FTCs and mostly increase the stability of the CSCs. However, severe FTCs may decrease TC and TN drastically, thereby, degrading the BSCs.

Key words

Freeze–thaw cycles Desert ecosystems C and N balances Infiltration Stabilization 



We thank Yevgeniy Marusenko and Ferran Garcia-Pichel for their helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. We thank Anita Antoninka and Daniel Roush for their grammatical review of the manuscript. The research was supported by the Natural Science Foundation of China (31000061;31130010) and the China Scholarship Council.

Supplementary material

11104_2014_2263_MOESM1_ESM.docx (26 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 26.1 kb)


  1. Barger NN, Herrick JE, Van Zee JW, Belnap J (2006) Impacts of biological soil crust disturbance and composition on C and N loss from water erosion. Biogeochemistry 77:247–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Belnap J (2003a) The world at your feet: desert biological soil crusts. Front Ecol Environ 1:181–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Belnap J (2003b) Biological soil crusts in deserts: a short review of their role in soil fertility, stabilization, and water relations. Algol Stud 109:113–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Belnap J (2006) The potential roles of biological soil crusts in dryland hydrologic cycles. Hydrol Processe 20:3159–3178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bowker MA, Maestre FT, Escolar C (2010) Biological crusts as a model system for examining the biodiversity–ecosystem function relationship in soils. Soil Biol Biochem 42:405–417CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cooley KR (1990) Effects of CO2-induced climatic changes on snowpack and streamflow. Hydrological sciences journal. Journal des Sciences Hydrologiques 35:511–522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Delgado-Baquerizo M, Morillas L, Maestre FT, Gallardo A (2013) Biocrusts control the nitrogen dynamics and microbial functional diversity of semi-arid soils in response to nutrient additions. Plant Soil 372:643–654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eldridge DJ, Greene RSB (1994) Microbiotic crusts: a view of the roles in soil and ecological processes in the rangelands of Australia. Aust J Soil Res 32:389–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Garcia-Pichel F, Belnap J (1996) Microenvironments and microscale productivity of cyanobacterial desert crusts. J Phycol 32:774–782CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Groffman PM, Driscoll CT, Fahey TJ, Hardy JP, Fitzhugh RD, Tierney GL (2001) Colder soils in a warmer world: a snow manipulation study in a northern hardwood forest ecosystem. Biogeochemistry 56:135–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Grogan P, Michelsen A, Ambus P, Jonasson S (2004) Freeze-thaw regime effects on carbon and nitrogen dynamics in sub-arctic heath tundra mesocosms. Soil Biol Biochem 36:641–654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hardy JP, Groffman PM, Fitzhugh RD, Henry K, Welman AT, Demers JD, Fahey TJ, Driscoll CT, Tierney GL, Nolan S (2001) Snow depth manipulation and its influence on soil frost and water dynamics in a northern hardwood forest. Biogeochemistry 56:151–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hawes I (1990) Effects of freezing and thawing on a species of zygnema (chlorophyta) from the antarctic. Phycologia 29:326–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Henry HAL (2007) Soil freeze-thaw cycle experiments: trends, methodological weaknesses and suggested improvements. Soil Biol Biochem 39:977–986CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hu C, Zhang D, Huang Z, Liu Y (2003) The vertical microdistribution of cyanobacteria and green algae within desert crusts and the development of the algal crusts. Plant Soil 257:97–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lin YF, Hirai M, Kashino Y, Koike H, Tuzi S, Satoh K (2004) Tolerance to freezing stress in cyanobacteria, Nostoc commune and some cyanobacteria with various tolerances to drying stress. Polar Biosci 17:56–68Google Scholar
  17. Maestre FT, Escolar C, Guevara ML, Quero J, Lázaro R, Delgado-Baquerizo M, Ochoa V, Berdugo M, Gozalo B, Gallardo A (2013) Changes in biocrust cover drive carbon cycle responses to climate change in drylands. Global Change Biol 19:3835–3847CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Marusenko Y, Bates ST, Anderson I, Johnson SL, Soule T, Garcia-Pichel F (2013) Ammonia-oxidizing archaea and bacteria are structured by geography in biological soil crusts across North American arid lands. Ecol Process 2–9Google Scholar
  19. Matzner E, Borken W (2008) Do freeze-thaw events enhance C and N losses from soils of different ecosystems? Eur J Soil Sci 59:274–284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Melick DR, Seppelt RD (1992) Loss of soluble carbohydrates and changes in freezing point of Antarctic bryophytes after leaching and repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Antarct Sci 4:399–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mellander PE, Lofvenius MO, Laudon H (2007) Climate change impact on snow and soil temperature in boreal Scots pine stands. Clim Chang 85:179–193CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Miralles I, Trasar-Cepeda C, Leirós MC, Gil-Sotres F (2013) Labile carbon in biological soil crusts in the tabernas desert, SE Spain. Soil Biol Biochem 58:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Morgan-Kiss RM, Priscu JC, Pocock T, GudynaiteSavitch L, Huner NPA (2006) Adaptation and acclimation of photosynthetic microorganisms to permanently cold environments. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev 70:222–252PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Oztas T, Fayetorbay F (2003) Effect of freezing and thawing processes on soil aggregate stability. Catena 52:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Piao S, Ciais P, Huang Y, Shen Z, Peng S, Li J, Zhou L, Liu H, Ma Y, Ding Y, Friedlingstein P, Liu C, Tan K, Yu Y, Zhang T, Fang JY (2010) The impacts of climate change on water resources and agriculture in China. Nature 467:43–51PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Priemé A, Christensen S (2001) Natural perturbations, drying-wetting and freezing-thawing cycles, and the emission of nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide and mechane from farmed organic soils. Soil Biol Biochem 33:2083–2091CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Reed SC, Coe KK, Sparks JP, Housman DC, Zelikova TJ, Belnap J (2012) Increased precipitation results in rapid moss mortality and altered fertility in a dryland ecosystem. Nat Clim Chang 2:752–755CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rossi F, Potrafka RM, Garcia-Pichel F, De Philippis R (2012) The role of the exopolysaccharides in enhancing hydraulic conductivity of biological soil crusts. Soil Biol Biochem 46:33–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schimel JP, Fahnestock J, Michaelson G, Mikan C, Ping CL, Romanovsky VE, Welker J (2006) Cold-season production of CO2 in Arctic soils: can laboratory and field estimates be reconciled through a simple modeling approach? Arct Antarct Alp Res 38:249–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Tamaru Y, Takani Y, Yoshida T, Sakamoto T (2005) Crucial role of extracellular polysaccharides in desiccation and freezing tolerance in the terrestrial cyanobacterium Nostoc commune. Appl Environ Microbiol 71:7327–7333PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tang EY, Vincent W (1999) Strategies of thermal adaption by high-latitude cyanbobacteria. New Phytol 142:315–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Thomas AD, Dougill AJ (2007) Cyanobacterial soil crusts and disturbance in the Kalahari: implications for soil surface properties. Geomorphology 85:17–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Vestgarden LS, Austnes K (2009) Effect of freeze-traw on C and N release from soils below different vegetation in a montane system: a laboratory experiment. Global Change Biol 15:876–887CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wang W, Wang YC, Shu X, Zhang QF (2013) Physiological responses of soil crust-forming cyanobacteria to diurnal temperature variation. J Basic Microb 53:72–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Warren SD (2001) Synopsis: influence of biological soil crusts on arid land hydrology and soil stability. In: Belnap J, Lange OL (eds) Biological soil crusts: structure, function, and management. Springer, Berlin, pp 351–362Google Scholar
  36. Xie ZM, Liu YD, Hu CX, Chen LZ, Li DH (2007) Relationships between the biomass of the algal crusts in field and their compressive strength. Soil Biol Biochem 39:567–572CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Weibo Wang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xiao Shu
    • 1
  • Quanfa Zhang
    • 1
  • René Guénon
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratory of Aquatic Botany and Watershed Ecology, Wuhan Botanical GardenChinese Academy of SciencesWuhanChina
  2. 2.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

Personalised recommendations