Published August 11, 2022 | Version v1
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Data from: Environmental change alters nitrogen fixation rates and microbial parameters in a subarctic biological crust

  • 1. Agricultural University of Iceland
  • 2. University of Iceland


Together, Biological Soil Crust (BSC) and other cryptogamic groundcovers can contribute up to half of the global nitrogen (N) fixation. BSC also stabilizes the soil (reducing erosion and dust emissions), fixes carbon (C), retains moisture, and acts as a hotspot of microbial diversity and activity. Much of the knowledge about how climate change is affecting the composition and functioning of BSC comes from hot arid and semiarid regions. The comparatively smaller body of research on BSC from cold and mesic environments has been primarily observational, for example along chronosequences after a glacier retreat. Few studies have experimentally investigated the effects of the environment on BSC from high latitudes. Such experiments allow unraveling of relationships at a resolution that can only be achieved by controlling for confounding factors. We measured short-term (2-4 days) responses of a liverwort-based (Anthelia juratzkana) BSC from the south of Iceland to a range of temperature, moisture and light conditions. Warming increased N fixation rates, especially when moisture was at a saturation level, and only when light was not limiting. A correlation analysis suggests that increases in N fixation rates were linked to cyanobacterial abundance on the BSC surface and to the rates of their metabolic activity. Warming and moisture changes also induced compositional and structural modification of the bacterial community, with consequences at the functional level. In contrast to many observations on BSC from hot drylands, the BSC from our cold and mesic study site is more limited by low temperature and light than by moisture. Our findings show possible ways in which BSC from cold and mesic ecosystems can respond to short-term manifestations of climate change, such as increasingly frequent heat waves.


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Funding provided by: Icelandic Research Fund*
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Is cited by
10.1101/2022.01.25.477655 (DOI)