Many thanks to Leopoldo Sancho & Fernando Maestre and their respective labs for putting on a fantastic workshop on biological soil crusts in Madrid (aka BIOCRUST 2013). There were about 80 speakers and about 30 posters presented, and the organizers are working on compiling pdfs of all of these which will eventually be available here. Obviously Spain was well-represented, but we had a great international mix of researchers from France, Portugal, Germany, Poland, The US, The UK, Israel, Australia, Venezuela, New Zealand, Colombia, and others. An impressive development compared to the last workshop was the representation of our Chinese colleagues. Three different Chinese research groups were represented. Everyone I talked to enjoyed the short talks (10 minute slots). Also I liked that the posters were hung for the duration, so that every coffee break became a poster session. On the final day we had three proposals for the 2016 conference: 1. University of Queensland, Australia with an overnight field visit to Magnetic Island (Wendy Williams) , 2. Moab, Utah, USA (Jayne Belnap), 3. The Negev Desert, Israel (Eli Zaady). I think all of these ideas were winners, but Moab took the votes.
|Dinner, the night before the conference.|
A few day one highlights -
Sasha Reed talked about effects of warming and increased precipitation frequency primarily on mosses. The mosses nearly completely die-off due to high frequency, short duration hydration events. The use of infrared heating lamps sparked some discussion because they deliver not only a warming treatment but also a drying effect. In my opinion, real global warming will also come with drying...therefore the lamps are a reasonable simulation. Cristina Escolar followed this up perfectly with her results using passive warming chambers. The warming (and probably associated drying) is killing off lichens, and reducing production but increasing soil carbon. The authors think the carbon is from the decomposition of the lichens, and that in the long term sequestration potential will decrease.
There was considerable excitement when Nick Vandehey spoke about the Berkeley lab's capability of making C11, a short-lived radio-isotope, incubating crusts with labeled CO2, then producing an image displaying not only how much C was fixed, but also the spatial pattern of C-fixation.
Enrique Valencia spoke about his recently started project which manipulates crust biodiversity and two global change factors. It's like the Cedar Creek experiment in miniature - both in size and budget, a perfect model system.
Possibly the talk that sparked my personal interest the most on day one was Antonio Gallardo's. He looked at the effects of different lichen species on soil C and N species, soil microbiota (including ammonia oxidizers), and polyphenol chemicals. First he found that all lichens regardless of the species were more similar to each other in terms of their effects on the above mentioned variables than to either bare areas, or soil under grasses. When honing in just on the lichens they did have distinct influences on the soil biogeochemical cycling. It was Diploschistes diacapsis that exerted the most unique effects on most variable, and also this lichen that contained the most polyphenols. This suggests that the lichens influence soil microbial communities with their polyphenols, and therefore alter the biogeochemical cycling performed by the soil microbes.