Patterns and Controls on Nitrogen Cycling of Biological Soil Crusts

  • Nichole N. BargerEmail author
  • Bettina Weber
  • Ferran Garcia-Pichel
  • Eli Zaady
  • Jayne Belnap
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 226)


In low-nutrient environments with few vascular plant symbiotic N fixers, biocrusts play an important role in ecosystem N cycling. A large number of studies across a wide range of biomes clearly confirm that not only the presence of biocrusts but biocrust community composition strongly influences N-fixation activity, with N fixation increasing with level of development (cyanobacterial-lichen biocrusts > dark cyanobacterial biocrust (e.g., Nostoc spp. and Collema spp.) > light Microcoleus-dominated biocrust). Nitrogen fixation by biocrusts results in N release to the soil in a variety of N forms (inorganic and organic N), thus elevating soil inorganic N pools in the top few millimeters of soil. The influence of N release on the bulk soil at greater soil depths is less clear, with biocrusts either elevating or having no influence on bulk soil inorganic N pools. The fate of N fixed and released by biocrusts, and whether this N is retained in the ecosystem in either soils or plants, determines ecosystem N balance over longer time scales, and results on the influence of biocrusts are mixed. Whereas we have multiple studies that examine a single compartment of N budgets, we lack studies that simultaneously address N inputs, losses, and soil and plant pools, thus precluding the construction of definitive N balances. One of the most consistent impact biocrusts have on ecosystem N is reducing N loss via wind and water erosion, with such losses consistently decreasing with increasing biocrust development.


Nitric oxideNitric Oxide Soil Organic Carbon Anaerobic Ammonium Oxidation Denitrification Rate Biological Soil Crust 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nichole N. Barger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Bettina Weber
    • 2
  • Ferran Garcia-Pichel
    • 3
  • Eli Zaady
    • 4
  • Jayne Belnap
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Multiphase ChemistryMax Planck Institute for ChemistryMainzGermany
  3. 3.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  4. 4.Department of Natural Resources, Agricultural Research OrganizationInstitute of Plant Sciences, Gilat Research CenterNegevIsrael
  5. 5.U.S. Geological SurveySouthwest Biological Science StationMoabUSA

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