Physiology of Photosynthetic Organisms Within Biological Soil Crusts: Their Adaptation, Flexibility, and Plasticity

  • T. G. Allan GreenEmail author
  • Michael C. F. Proctor
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 226)


All photosynthetic organisms in biological soil crusts (“plants”) are poikilohydric, that is, their water content tends to equilibrate with that of their surroundings. The importance of scale and microclimate for biocrust functioning is emphasized. An outline is given of the water relations of poikilohydric plants, to which external capillary water is physiologically important. In general, organisms in biocrusts are desiccation tolerant, that is, they can cease metabolism on drying out to 5–10 % relative water content (RWC) and resume metabolism within a few minutes or an hour or two upon remoistening. When dry they can withstand temperatures from far below freezing to >60 °C. Generally too they are adapted to brightly lit exposed environments. Lichens are strongly focused on habitats with transient water availability and can stand desiccation with rapid recovery on rewetting. Bryophytes are able to occupy moister (often seasonal) sites from which lichens tend to be excluded, and recovery after desiccation is slower and desiccation tolerance may be inducible. Water sources to biocrusts are discussed including rainfall, the contribution of humid air and dew, and impaction of water droplets from mist or clouds. The units used in different fields of research which impinge on biocrusts (dry weight, thallus area, precipitation equivalent), and interconversions between them, are considered. An outline is given of the responses of poikilohydric plants to environmental factors, including to water content, access to and response to CO2 concentration, and to light and temperature. Protection against UVB and excess PAR is outlined. The proportion of time spent wet (active) and dry (inactive) by biocrusts and the means of measuring them are also discussed. The importance of distinguishing the environment of the organisms making up the biocrust, from the overall “climate,” is emphasized.


Relative Water Content Desiccation Tolerance Biological Soil Crust Mojave Desert Full Turgor 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biological SciencesUniversity of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Departamento de Biología Vegetal II, Facultad de FarmaciaUniversidad Complutense de MadridMadridSpain
  3. 3.University of Exeter, CLES: BiosciencesExeterUK

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