A networking resource devoted to biological soil crusts and the researchers who study them. We will provide a means for international scientists to communicate, share their research, share important news and announcements, ask questions and find collaborators. We will also provide a space for informal writing on research, opinion, and ideas (now seeking posters!).

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Major events in the life of a cyanobacterium: elucidating the "to-do list" for wet-up, normal activity, and dry-down

Fig 1. Subtract out these grasses, and you might have a good analog for the first ecological communities to colonize the land (Beraldi et al. 2013, image: Bowker et al. 2002).

Ever since about 3.5 (+?) billion years ago Earth has been the planet of the cyanobacteria (also correctly called blue-green bacteria and incorrectly called blue-green algae). We may have invented all kinds of interesting names for different parts of Earth's history (age of the fishes, age of the reptiles, etc.) in our animal-centric way, but in the background of all that there were the cyanobacteria quietly conducting the yin of global ecosystem function, primary production (decomposition being the yang). They "invented" oxygenic photosynthesis. They became engulfed by other organisms and were modified into the chloroplasts of plants and algae....so one could argue that cyanobacteria and modified cyanobacteria still conduct most of Earth's photosynthesis. These organisms drove mass extinctions, rusted the planet, and allowed a radiation of oxygen consuming organisms like humans by creating an oxygen rich atmosphere. They may have induced some glacial periods by locking up carbon dioxide. They were early colonizers of land, perhaps among the first (Beraldi-Campesi 2013; Fig.1).  They engage in mutualistic relationships with plants and a variety of fungi. They are dominant phytoplankton in the oceans, and they are found in all terrestrial ecosystems from the hottest to the coldest, wettest to the driest. In short the Earth would be a fundamentally different planet without them.

In addition to being a pillar of the biosphere, they must have some very intriguing capabilities to exist essentially anywhere with light and at least occasional water. A case in point are the desert biocrusts, whose chief architect in the cooler deserts is the cyanobacterium Microcoleus vaginatus. They need light to photosynthesize, so they have to be near the soil surface....but think about what that implies: they must be able to tolerate their environment drying out, and they must be able to handle that sun, especially UV, exposure. This leads to two interesting abilities: desiccation tolerance and the ability to move in response to stimuli. Cyanobacteria inhabit the world's deserts because some of them are masters of desiccation tolerance: drying without dying. They pay a cost in terms of cellular damage when they dry down, but unlike you, me, your houseplants, or your dog, losing almost all of their water does not kill them. When dry, they power down completely, and simply sit there until they are moistened by liquid water and can restart their metabolism.

Fig 2. Multiple filaments of Microcoleus vaginatus (appears green) in a shared polysaccharide tube (appears white). Source: botany.natur.cuni.cz.
It gets even more interesting. Microcoleus forms threads of cells called filaments. Many filaments bundle together inside a tube of polysaccharides (what a normal person might call slime) that they goop out into the environment (Fig. 2). The tubes often run from a few mm below the soil surface to the very surface. They can slide up and down these slime tubes! Why might they move up? If water is adequate, but light could be better (for example during a rainstorm), the very surface is the place to be. Because of their susceptibility to UV, they can also retreat down a bit if light intensity increases. They also retract back into the soil as it dries, because they don't "want" to desiccate on the surface only to site there for days, weeks or months degrading in the sun (Garcia-Pichel & Pringault 2000).

Because rain events and solar influx are not exactly scheduled events, one might hypothesize that all of these things ought to be regulated by gene expression triggered and set into motion by the wet-up and dry-down events themselves. Recently a team of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory made the news when they tracked a wetup and dry down period in a biocrust, continually monitoring what genes turned on and off and therefore which processes where engaged. This gives us a glimpse for the first time of a desert cyanobacterium's prioritized to-do list when activated. 

First, check out this video by the Berkeley team of a wet-up event below. You see bubbles of gas forming. This is probably mostly carbon dioxide at first giving way to mostly oxygen later, because respiration is engaged immediately to repair the damage sustained in the last dry-down and photosythesis takes a bit longer to ramp up. You'll see a visible greening as the filaments migrate up their slime tubes to the surface.


Next, check out their other video of a dry-down event. This video begins with a green surface because the filaments are lying there, then you can see the surface become less green because the filaments are retracting into their sheaths. The retracted filaments can now dry-down in peace below the surface without too much risk of major damage by the sun. 


The Berkeley team found that there were essentially three clusters of genes that tended to be expressed at the same time. These could be correlated with three time periods: Early wet up, daily cycles, dry-down.

I'm no biochemist, so I'll just summarize a few highlights that I found intriguing, and maybe the authors will chime in in the comment box (ahem...!!). Upon wetting up & "waking" up, the cyanobacterium finds that it left on some genes important in the last dry-down. It shuts these off. Then it turns on the genes to move around nutrients, and start making chlorophyll and ATP....in other words "topping off the tank" to start photosynthesis and respiration. It also turns on genes to fix DNA damage, because that last dry-down did some oxidative damage. While wet the organism enters an alternating cycle of pulsed photosynthesis-linked gene expression triggered by the light environment, some of which shut down at night. Microcoleus is just going about its work week, punching the clock for the daily photosynthesis, and taking its payment in carbon. Then, eventually, the day of reckoning comes....its starting to dry down. we already know its not going to die, but this is a period of time where membranes are damaged and the cells are affected by oxidative damage. Luckily, this guy keeps an emergency box of genes just for such occasions. Microcoleus keeps photosynthesis and respiration running until the bitter end. It also starts expressing genes to defend against the coming reactive oxygen (pumping in Mn as enzyme cofactors!!!). It expresses genes to help maintain osmotic balance. Perhaps the coolest....it turns on genes to transport sugars & therefore energy. This may seem strange seeing as how the organisms is in the process of shutting down, but it could help speed things up when the organism wakes back up. Is this the desert cyanobacterial equivalent of laying out your clothes and shoes for the following day before going to bed?

Literature Cited
Beraldi-Campesi H. 2013. Early life on land and the first terrestrial ecosystems. Ecological Processes 2:1.

Bowker MA, Reed SC, Belnap J, Phillips S. 2002. Temporal variation in community composition, pigmentation, and Fv/Fm of desert cyanobacterial soil crusts. Microbial Ecology 43:13-25.

Garcia-Pichel F, Pringault O. 2001. Cyanobacteria track the water in desert soils. Nature 413: 380-381.

Rajeev L, Nunes da Rocha U, Klitgord N, Luning EG, Fortney J, Axen SD, Shih PM, Bouskill NJ, Bowen BP, Kerfield CA, Garcia-Pichel F, Brodie EL, Northen TR, Mukhopadhyay A. (2013). Dynamic cyanobacterial response to hydration and dehydration in a desert biological soil crust The ISME Journal DOI: 10.1038/ismej.2013.83 ResearchBlogging.org

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Global warming may affect soil microbe survival, with unknown consequences on soil fertility and erosion

Global warming may affect soil microbe survival, with unknown consequences on soil fertility and erosion

Ferran Garcia-Pichel & co. are at it again, first ISME just a couple weeks ago and today he has biocrusts on the cover of science.

June 28 2013, Science. Microcoleus vaginatus (blue) on the left, Microcoleus steenstrupii (red) on the right. As climate warms, there will be a changing of the guard in the biocrusts.

Original article is here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

As Many Exceptions As Rules: The Colors of Alien Plants

As Many Exceptions As Rules: The Colors of Alien Plants: Biology concepts – photosynthesis, chlorophyll, pigmentation, astrobiology, exoplanet, dormancy The King Crimson Norway Maple in our ...

I ran across this on researchblogging.org. Nice simple explanation of chlorophylls and other pigments. Also its the first I've heard of chlorophyll d and its role as the primary light harvesting pigment in cyanobacteria. Is this really true, or is there some controversy that the author is omitting?

Monday, June 24, 2013

BIOCRUST 2013, Madrid Day 1 Report

Arriving home after an all-nighter. Just joking! Actually, this is just how happy crust enthusiasts are to see others of their kind. We are heading out for dinner near the recently made-over Rio Manzanares. L-R: Chongfeng Bu, Jayne Belnap, Jayne's granddaughter Haylee (I'm guessing on spelling), Sasha Reed, Bettina Weber, Yunge Zhao, Nichole Barger, Sergio Velasco Ayuso, Ana Giraldo, Ferran Garcia-Pichel.

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.

Having some tapas in the city center before going to dinner.  (L-R: Anita Antoninka, Nichole Barger, Antonio Gallardo, Ferran Garcia-Pichel, Sasha Reed, Santi Soliveres, Manu Delgado, Sergio Velasco).

A little explanation: So, a man came in and wouldn't leave us alone until Ferran bought some flashing bows that you wear on your head. They came out for the photos.

Another footnote: apparently this restaurant was on Gordon Ramsey's reality TV show Kitchen Disasters. 

Conference attendees recreate Da Vinci's last supper.

This is made even more perfect by Sasha's glowing and blinking "halo", purchased for only 1 euro. Give her a break, she gave her talk that morning and its the night before her birthday. (L to R): Santi Soliveres, Antonio Gallardo, Ferran Garcia-Pichel, Sergio Velasco, Sasha Reed, Anita Antoninka, Bettina Weber, Manu Delgado.

Friday, June 21, 2013

New twitter bar added

Just a quick note: I embedded a twitter list - down and on the right- of a few folks from our research community including Fernando Maestre, Maik Veste's lab, Steve Hoon and others (including a Mars rover, currently searching for Martian cyanobacteria). Think you'd like to be on the list? Leave me your twitter ID in the comment box.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Biological Soil Crust Secrets Uncovered « Berkeley Lab News Center

Biological Soil Crust Secrets Uncovered « Berkeley Lab News Center

This paper about the gene expression events in wet-up and dry-down events in Microcoleus vaginatus crusts is currently making the rounds in the science press. I may write up a more in depth summary of this soon....so stay tuned. Also, I will have four authors of this work: Aindrila Muktopadhyay, Trent Northen, Ferran Garcia-Pichel and Eoin Brodie speaking in September in Flagstaff, in a special session in the Biennial Conference for Research on the Colorado Plateau. Please attend if you are in the neighborhood, these guys are all good.

I love this pic of Trent. It reminds me of a before photo of a Dr. Jeckyll-Mr. Hyde transformation. Or maybe that he's noticing a resemblance between a Microcoleus culture and a cold refreshing Mountain Dew. (Just teasing, Trent. Serious congrats on a great paper!)

Science Daily

original paper in ISME

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The web presence of the biocrust research community: a request for participation and ideas

It seems to me that right now, we are seeing an unprecedented interest in the science of biological soil crusts. There are more and more of us in more places conducting this research. Nevertheless, our field is still young and at this moment all of us are more like allies than competitors. We do what we do because we think it is important, fascinating and under appreciated and for the most part we are happy to see another succeed in the same area. In my opinion, we should channel this energy to coordinate our web presence as a research community. I think this can only benefit us as our science becomes "mainstream". I argue below for the value of blogging, online forums, researcher directories, and dynamic bibliographies.

Why not just build a really good static website like soil crust.org? Well, first, there already are more than one static site that are good. In addition to these good existing sites, we also need a dynamic platform with content that changes daily, and a mechanism for two-way talking (comment boxes). So we are talking about something dynamic and interactive. We are in a rapidly growing field and stuff changes all the time. I think of  a good static website and a good dynamic website as complementary, especially if they are cross-linked in a prominent location (for example, here I link soil crust.org on my top bar), which recognizes it as a sister site. What do others think?

So what web resources do we need?

1. A platform for non-technical dissemination of our work. I think that blogs are here to stay for a while and are a logical medium for this. Scientists has a very serious communication problem with people that aren't also scientists. Science blogging is emerging as a real, impactful medium to communicate science. It doesn't replace technical publications in journals, but complements it very well. Many journals now have excellent blogs written by the editors. There are aggregators which collect and repost blog entries about scientific research. This blog you are reading gets about 50-100 page views per day. Now, that is not exactly viral. BUT, that rate of viewing absolutely shatters the rate of traffic my actual papers get. This is an emerging element of scientific impact that we should take part in. Usually governments fund our research with revenue derived from taxes. People that pay the taxes deserve to be able to read about the science that gets funded if they wish to.

Let me illustrate the significance of communicating with non-scientists. Recently Alan Savory did a TED talk promoting his high-intensity rotational grazing method as a way to reverse desertification and climate change. His talk was simple, compelling, and easy to understand. Alot of intelligent people asked me what I thought about this "great" talk. The truth is it was unsubstantiated by data and evidence, plagued by logical flaws, completely wrong in my opinion, and maybe dangerous. He actually refers to "algal crusts" as a symptom of a cancer of the land. He got over 1 million hits, and miseducated about that number of people in my opinion.

How can we counter that? We probably can't now in that particular case, unless we get Jayne to do a TED talk, but it speaks to a need for us to create and disseminate freely available and understandable interpretation of good science and data on a regular basis. We can't complain that people are only picking up bad information if we don't put out good information that a non-professional can read.

The other nice thing about a base blog platform is that comments can be left on posts for anyone to read. This is a good space for researchers to discuss the topic of whatever a given post is about. Also it's a way to interact with members of the general public with an interest in biocrust science.

2. A networking resource. I suggest that a group forum that is viewable to the general public is the best platform for us to communicate freely with each other (see above and below). I currently have one embedded in this blog. Its new. Follow the link "Geodermatophilia Forum" above in the top bar or here. Anyone can select a topic of their choice, and leave a comment. You do not have to have a special account or anything. You will recall list-serves and probably still use some. That is a 20 year old technology, a forum is better.

3. An online, comprehensive biocrust bibliography that can be updated. Scott Bates, Jayne Belnap, Nichole Barger & I have all talked about some form of this at various times. Different people have somewhat different visions, but we all recognize how useful this would be. There is a static one on soilcrust.org, but it needs an update and maybe a format change which Jayne spoke about at BIOCRUST 2013 in Madrid. 

Here's another related idea. Wouldn't it be great if not only were this a bibliography, but a massive shared, searchable collection of pdfs. Maybe Mendeley is the platform? How can we do this, what ideas do people have and how will we accomplish it? This is a great topic for discussion on the forum.

4. A biocrust researcher directory. Currently I have a shoddy version on the right sidebar of this blog. It is not comprehensive, it is just what I had time to piece together. I can envision a standalone page where each researcher has a little bio, contact information, maybe a picture, and a set of links to their other pages if available. Are there other ideas? Leave them on the forum.

5. I dont know. What else do we need, web-wise? Let's discuss it here.

Why a blog rather than, e.g., twitter, facebook? 
Twitter & facebook are great ways to quickly share small snippets of information with lots of people. A blog can do this too, but in addition, a blog is a more complete platform for collecting and listing links and short articles. Also, this blog contains simple buttons at the bottom of each post that allows you to share posts on twitter or facebook. The posts here automatically aggregate to two science blog aggregators, Scienceseeker.org & natureblognetwork.com. With a couple extra steps, posts about published papers can also be published on my personal favorite researchblogging.com. Take a minute and look at these sites, don't you agree that this is a great way to get information out on the web?

When I established the blog you are reading, I did not envision it as "my" blog, I envisioned it as our networking resource. The only way this can actually work is for people to participate and engage. 

Ways to participate in this website (listed from most active to passive):
1. Be a poster. Write on this blog. A post can be as simple as a tweet, e.g. sharing a link,  that costs seconds or an in-depth piece that might require hours. All you need to do is tell me that you want to post, and I will get you set up and you can post as little or as much as you want. Not only can this help disseminate information to the public, but it can help you direct readers to your own work and establish you as a voice to listen to on the topic of biocrusts. So, it's a fun way to spend free time (i.e. a hobby) that can also promote your career. I enjoy bicycling too, but that doesn't promote my science, so I think this is a good deal.

What should you post?

Here's some ideas to get started: a. Share your photos, b. Discuss a paper or news story, c. Update us on your lab activities, d. Cross-post from your other blogs or lab webpage, e. advertise for jobs, books, conferences either in the blog page or the forum, f. review equipment or sell used equipment, g. promote and summarize your recent research, h. post radio or video pieces that you run across relevant to arid lands, crusts, dust, j. find a collaborator or partner on a proposal, k. post a link to your archived data, etc., l. post course plans or curricula for class activities involving biocrusts. m. write a tribute post about a prominent biocrust researcher that is retiring.

2a. Leave comments on blog posts. Commenting on blog posts leads to public conversations and discussions that can be insightful.

2b. Leave messages on the forum. For example, you can: a. enlist help from the crust community (e.g. "Someone please tell me the best way to measure Chlorophyll a using a Synergy HT plate reader", "How can I distinguish Fulgensia species in the field?", etc.)j. b. find a collaborator or partner on a proposal, c. post a link to your archived data, etc.

3. Share things that ought to be posted or linked with a poster. The poster, with minimal effort can share it.

4a. If you are a biocrust researcher & you have some form of website, check to be sure you are in the researcher directory to the right. Make sure the best possible link is used, otherwise give me the information to change it.

4b. If you maintain a website, please consider linking this one. The more links, the higher the site in Google.

5. If you like a post, share it using Facebook, Twitter, Google + other social media. At the bottom of each post there are buttons that allow you to do so easily - just push and enter login details. Also simply tell people about the site.

6.  "Follow" the blog, using your google ID. When you log into google all new posts of the blogs you follow will come up. If you use a blog reader, any new posts will automatically be forwarded there (it's like friending someone in Facebook). Also it is a visible "vote" that you like the content of this webpage, this encourages other to do so also.

7. Bookmark the blog & visit often. Traffic follows traffic, the simplest and most passive way to promote a biocrust website is to visit and read it.

OK, that's my pitch and it is especially focused on younger researchers (grad students, post-docs, new professors and the like). 

In summary please: Tell me if you want to post on the blog (you can tell me via email, the forum, or the comment box below). Use the forum to communicate your ideas about our community web presence. 

New! Forum is up and running

Look up at the top banner on this page, there are now multiple pages, one of which is labeled "Geodermatophilia forum". Follow that link or this one to the forum. Bookmark it.

This is a place where anyone can leave a comment or announcement. This is a distinct tool from the comment boxes at the bottom of posts because any topic can be discussed at any time (not just the most current blog post, and because its more conducive for reader-to-reader communications rather than poster to reader communication. AND, it is organizable into threads or topics.

Examples (not at all exhaustive) of good usage of this forum:
1. Back & forth discussion of threads
2. Advertise positions in your lab
3. Seek or give advise about taxonomy, methods, equipment, etc
4. If you are a member of the general public, ask a general question of the experts.

It won't have any value unless people use it, so please use it. It might require a little extra effort at first.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

In crust we trust

Sighted by Anita Antoninka. The crust message is getting out there. I wonder who Frank is.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fall 2013 Biocrust symposium in Flagstaff, Arizona

There have been alot of events lately promoting biocrust science. Three years ago the first international biocrust conference was held in Germany. Two years ago, there was a biocrust symposium at the Biennial Conference for research on the Colorado Plateau. Last Spring there were two such sessions here and here at The European Geosciences Union in Vienna. Last Summer, there was a special session at the Ecological Society of America Meeting in Portland which resulted in a special issue in the journal Ecological Processes. And in less than a week the second international biocrust meeting will kick off in Madrid. I'd like to continue this drumbeat by contributing another Fall Symposium in Flagstaff, Arizona. My draft speaker list and the topics are below, when final I will post all the titles and abstracts here. Although I've only got 16 symposium spots, I'd like to encourage all regional biocrust enthusiasts and researchers to attend or submit a talk or poster to the general conference...the more the merrier.

The Biennial Conference for Research on the Colorado Plateau is coming up September 16 - 19 in Flagstaff, Arizona. Kyle Doherty and I are co-organizing a symposium on biological crusts, which will occur on Wednesday (17th).

This is a very fun regional conference well attended by university and agency scientists, and many land managers as well.

conference website - http://nau.edu/merriam-powell/biennial-conference/

I tend to believe that the Colorado Plateau is one of the crust capitols of the world, due to its highly visible and charismatic biocrusts, and due to the relatively large number of researchers studying this topic. This will be the third such session at this conference, the most recent being two years ago. Two years ago (read about it here http://geodermatophilia.blogspot.com/2011/10/its-finally-on-colorado-plateau.html and here
http://biocrust.posterous.com/ we had a great lineup of talks on all topics biocrusty, with crust researchers in attendance representing Arizona, Utah, California, Colorado, Colombia, China and Catalunya. The session was packed, especially early, and well-attended by agency personnel who are keen to learn about biocrusts. In the late afternoon, we had our own private poster session, and a lovely night out featuring good beer, wine and bluegrass. It was great fun, and we'd like to continue the tradition. In addition to this biocrust session, Jayne Belnap will also be organizing a session on dust which will be of interest to many (myself included).

Biennial Conference for Research on the Colorado Plateau, Flagstaff, AZ, September 16-19 2013

Proposal for Symposium

Length: 4 hours

Title: Biological Soil Crusts: Response to climate change and utility in ecological restoration

Justification: Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are the protective skin of the earth creating soil stability, building and maintaining soil fertility and influencing hydrology. Ecosystem functions of biocrusts operate from microscopic to landscape scales. They are one of the most informative indicators of terrestrial ecosystem health in the Colorado Plateau region. We wish to continue an incipient tradition of biocrust-themed sessions at the Biennial conference.

This special session is designed to bring together researchers from multiple western states working on two focal aspects of biocrust research. The session will focus on: 1. Responses of biocrusts to climate change and ecosystem consequences, and 2. Ecological restoration of biocrusts, theory and technology, 3. Biocrust genomics, metabolomics and microbial ecology. Speakers will be asked to tailor their talks to both a scientific and natural resource management audience. This session will complement a distinct session on the dust cycle the following day.

Expected outcomes: This session will give regional biocrust researchers the opportunity to disseminate their research and its relevance to resource management professionals. We will outreach also to alternative energy and military representative, two groups which may have special interest in biocrust restoration technologies. Equally important, especially for early career researchers, is the opportunity to network and meet peers. Multiple graduate students, post-docs and other early career researchers have been invited to participate. Symposia such as these lead to friendships, collaborations, research proposals, and more research conducted on these integral components of Colorado Plateau ecology.

Available funding: None has been secured. Speakers are being asked, to travel at their own expense.

Confirmed speakers (topics are tentative)
Sasha Reed - Effects of altered climate of biocrust dominated ecosystems
Anita Antoninka – Determining how best to deploy biocrust inoculum for restoration
Deb Neher – Climate change effects on biocrust fauna
Kyle Doherty – Development of a biocrust moss inoculum for restoration purposes
Jayne Belnap – Review of Chinese language studies of biocrust restoration
Matthew Bowker – 8 years of biocust succession and recovery after nutrient supplements
Eva Dettweiler- Robinson - The Contribution of Biological Soil Crust Carbon and Nitrogen Exchange to the Net Ecosystem Exchange Along an Elevation Gradient
Anny Chung- TBD
Ferran Garcia-Pichel or grad student- TBD
Trent Northen –TBD
Zachary Aanderud – Evaluating Post-Fire Recovery of Biocrusts and Ecosystem Services
Eoin Brodie –
Cheryl Kuske -
Lindsay Chiquoine – update on restoration of gypsum communities
Aindrila Mukhopadhyay -

Possible speakers (pending funds & lifting of federal travel restrictions)
Kirsten Coe
Nichole Barger

Dr. Matthew Bowker, School of Forestry, Northern Arizona University, 200 E Pine Knoll Drive, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011. Matthew.bowker@nau.edu

Kyle Doherty, Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona University, Box 5640, Flagstaff, AZ 86011. Kd498@nau,edu.

Trent Northen, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, One Cyclotron Road , Mailstop: 84R0171, Berkeley, CA 94720, trnorthen@lbl.gov

Monday, June 3, 2013

Call for photos: global soil biodiversity atlas

Dear fellow biocrust fans...this is something that we should all attempt. It would be a shame if soil crusts were not well represented here.

New paper on Antarctic biocrusts

Biological soil crusts in continental Antarctica: Garwood Valley, southern Victoria Land, and Diamond Hill, Darwin Mountains region
Claudia Colesie, Maxime Gommeaux, T.G. Allan Green and Burkhard Büdel
Antarctic Science, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?aid=8925976

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Name this organism!

This turned up in Kyle Doherty's biocrust moss cultures (more on this another time). It's a volunteer. We have not had a look microscopically but I'm guessing a cyanobacterium that was growing on the moss leaf when the culture was started. Its obviously filamentous, maybe one of the Microcoleus species. I guess it could be an alga. The interesting this is this vertical growth habit and the curly pig-tail spires. You don't see something like this happening in crusts out in the field.

Please tell us what you think it might be in the comment box.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The New Testament is on it's way

Remember this thing? Hopefully every biocrust enthusiast has one on their shelves. Mine is signed by Jayne, and I need to remember to bring it to Spain to collect autographs of Otto Lange and all the other contributors. Of course there were plenty of seminal papers and some pretty good reviews before, but this book (1st edition 2001) has become such a valuable one stop shopping source for crust information that many people have taken to referring to it as the crust bible.

Well, alot has happened since this publication. First, there's just more biocrust researchers which has alot to do with the publication of the crust bible. The subject matter of crust research has changed, for example we are now seeing biocrusts used as model organisms in ecology and more and more climate change research, and we are seeing more and more work on ecological restoration. The geography of the biocrust research community has shifted also. At the time this book was written, biocrust researchers were primarily based in the US, Germany, Israel, and Australia. Now, I think its fair to say that China accounts for at least half if not more of the biocrust research production. Also the emergence of biocrust research in Spain has also been impactful, and a sizable group based in France is also notable. Basically, many more people in many more places are contributing to the biocrust knowledge base. This is undeniably a good thing, but it means that the crust bible is a bit out of date. It needs and update, but more than that.....a sequel. A New Testament!

While there will be several contributors in common, the new book seems to be a bit of a youth movement. Some of the students of the original authors will contribute, in additional to several new contributors. Below is an outline as it stands now. I love the title. To me there seems to be a thinly veiled message: this is an extremely important thing that most of you desert scientists are not noticing, look down once in a while (eyes rolling).

Ecological Studies
Biological Soil Crusts: An Organizing Principle in Drylands
Ed. by B. Weber, B. Büdel and J. Belnap

Table of Contents

Part I: Introduction  
1 Biological soil crusts as a critical zone of global importance (J. Belnap, <jayne_belnap@usgs.gov>)
In this chapter, the concept of biocrusts as the critical zone in drylands will be presented. As these communities cover the soil surface in these regions, they mediate almost all materials entering and leaving the soil, thereby influencing most ecosystem processes including, hydrology, erosion protection, nutrient cycling, vascular plant nutrition and community composition. Their role in ecosystem services will be introduced in this opening chapter.
2 How biological soil crusts became studied as a community (O.L. Lange, <ollange@botanik.uni-wuerzburg.de>)
In this chapter, Professor Lange will describe the history of the first research on biocrusts: the recognition of the organisms as a community, the people who studied them and the techniques utilized.
Part II: Morphology, composition, and distribution of biological soil crusts at different scales
3 Fossil crusts: (H. Beraldi, <hberaldi@unam.mx>)
Biological soil crusts and their components have been identified as fossils from a wide range of rock types found in different parts of the world. In this chapter, these fossil findings will be described and their implications for the evolution of biocrusts and their components will be discussed.
4 Cyanobacteria and algae within biological soil crusts (B. Büdel, <buedel@rhrk.uni-kl.de>)
The diversity and functional roles of cyanobacteria and algae within biocrusts of different (climatic) regions will be described in this chapter. Reasons for variation and stability of taxonomic composition, as well as present and future determination methods will be discussed.
5 Fungi and bacteria within biological soil crusts (M. Grube, <martin.grube@uni-graz.at>)
Description of the diversity and functional roles of fungi and bacteria within biocrusts of different types and (climatic) regions. Present and future methods of determination methods will be discussed.
6 Bryophytes within biological soil crusts (H. Kürschner, <kuersch@zedat.fu-berlin.de>)
The diversity and functional roles of biocrust bryophytes in different habitats (soils, climate, vegetation type) will be described in this chapter. Advantages of a molecular approach in bryophyte identification will be discussed.
7 Lichens within biological soil crusts (M. Westberg, <Martin.Westberg@nrm.se>)
Description of the diversity and functional roles of biocrust lichens from different habitats (soils, climate, vegetation type). Advantages of molecular as compared to classical morphological identifcation methods will be discussed.
8 Microfauna within biological soil crusts (B. Darby, <brian.darby@UND.edu>)
Biocrusts are known to constitute an important habitat for microfauna such as nematodes, collembola, mites, springtails and snails. The diversity and potential functional roles of microfauna within biocrusts of different habitats will be described in this chapter.
9 Composition and structure of biological soil crusts (B. Büdel, <buedel@rhrk.uni-kl.de>)
The composition of biocrusts, comprising the organisms described in chapters 5 to 9, is influenced by climatic, pedogenic and successional parameters. This organism composition, but also macro- and microclimatic conditions as well as landuse patterns are known to influence the external morphology of biocrusts. The variation of biocrust composition and morphology and the resulting effects on ecosystem function will be described.
10 Controls on distribution patterns of biological soil crusts at the micro-, macro-, and global scale (M.A. Bowker, <Matthew.Bowker@nau.edu>)
Distribution patterns of biological soil crusts are determined by a variety of different abiotic factors, such as soil structure and chemistry, vegetation, and climate conditions. Distribution patterns will analyzed and described at different scales.
11 Long-term studies on different types of biological soil crusts (J. Belnap, <jayne_belnap@usgs.gov>)
Biocrusts and their components have been monitored at multiple sites for five to twenty years. Their growth, distribution patterns, and response to climate and vegetation changes give important insights into the long-term stability, development and structure of biocrusts.
12 Remote sensing of biological soil crusts at different scales (B. Weber, <b.weber@mpic.de>)
Imaging spectroscopy methods have been utilized to classify biocrusts within different types of remote sensing imagery. Aside from the classification of biocrusts at the macroscale, imaging spectroscopy has been used to differentiate between different types of biocrusts and also different land use intensities have been differentiated by means of remote sensing techniques.
Part III: Functional roles of biological soil crusts
13 Microstructure and weathering processes within biological soil crusts (F. Garcia-Pichel, <ferran@asu.edu>)
Biological soil crust organisms have been shown to influence the microstructure of the soil and cause weathering processes within the upper soil matrix. These processes, depending on the type of biocrust organisms present, as well as the initial soil composition and structure, will be described in this chapter.
14 Nitrogen cycling of biological soil crusts at micro- macro-, and global scales (N. Barger, <Nichole.Barger@Colorado.EDU>)
Many cyanobacteria and cyanobacterial lichens in biocrusts fix atmospheric nitrogen. This newly fixed nitrogen has three pathways: some is nitrified or denitrified within the biological soil crust, some is leached into underlying soils, and a third part is released into the atmosphere as NO and N2O. The different sinks of biocrusts have been shown to differ among them, depending on the N-content of the soil, temperature, soil texture and water status. New studies at the global, ecosystem and micro-scales will be presented. Future research methods and questions regarding this highly relevant field of research will also be analyzed.
15 Carbon budgets of biological soil crusts at micro- macro-, and global scales (L. Sancho, <sancholg@farm.ucm.es>)
During the last few years there have been several long-term studies determining the C-budget of biocrusts at the micro- and the mesoscale. These investigations have been conducted at sites within different climatic regions and on several continents. Synthesizing these data promises a big step towards more precise calculations of long-term nutrient fluxes. Apart from these field studies, a global modelling analysis of C-fixation accomplished by biocrusts will be presented in this chapter.
16 Biological soil crusts as soil stabilizers (J. Belnap, <jayne_belnap@usgs.gov>)
Where the biomass of biocrusts is sufficient, they stabilize soils, decreasing both wind and water erosion. They also capture dust, which contains nutrients. Thus, in addition to fixing nitrogen (Chap 14) and carbon (Chap 15) they influence soil fertility in other ways
17 Effects of biological soil crusts on arid land hydrology (S. Chamizo, <scd394@ual.es>)
Biological soil crusts are well-known to affect soil hydrology of arid lands in a complex and non-uniform manner. The effect of biocrusts on infiltration and runoff appear dependent on crust composition, external morphology, soils, site characteristics (e.g., slope), vegetative cover, and macroclimatic conditions. During the last decade, there have been many new insights, which will be presented here.
18 Response of biological soil crust organisms to light, temperature, and water conditions (T.G.A. Green, <greentga@waikato.ac.nz>)
Biocrusts consist of poikilohydric organisms, which passively outlast dry conditions to resurrect again upon favourable water conditions. During the last years they have been shown to adapt to varying light, water and temperature conditions within their environment. Their ability to adapt seems to depend on the overall plasticity of individual crust organisms. The great variability in adaptation potential of different crust organisms will be discussed here.
Part IV: Interactions between biological soil crusts and vascular plants
19 Interactions of biological soil crusts with vascular plants (Y. Zhang, <zhangym@ms.xjb.ac.cn>)
Whereas a nutrient transfer between biocrusts and vascular plants has been assumed in many studies, evidence proving this has only recently been obtained. Several studies have now shown that both C and N can be moved from biocrusts to plants and from plants to biocrusts via fungal hyphae.
Aside from this nutrient transfer, biocrusts have been shown to affect seed retention, germination and plant emergence of vascular plants. Plants adapted to biological soil crust habitats were observed to have smooth seeds (thus lacking appendages), which may facilitate their ability to slip into cracks in the biocrusts. Thus, biological soil crusts have a profound impact on plant structure and communities within arid environments.
20 Biological soil crusts as model to study plant interactions and functional roles (F. Maestre, <fernando.maestre@urjc.es>)
In this chapter, the authors explore how biocrusts of deserts and many other ecosystems may serve as a useful model system for studying multiple questions of interest in community and ecosystem ecology, including biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships, the interplay between positive and negative interactions along environmental gradients, the source-sink hydrological dynamics in drylands, and the role of attributes of biotic communities as modulators of ecosystem responses to global environmental change. To illustrate their views, they synthesize recent and ongoing studies. They complete the synthesis of the studies conducted so far with recommendations for promoting the use of biocrusts by community and ecosystem ecologists, and with a list of priorities for future research on this topic.
Part V: Threats to biological soil crusts
21 Effects of surface disturbance on biological soil crusts (E. Zaady, <zaadye@volcani.agri.gov.il>)
Surface disturbances (e.g., mechanical disturbance, herbicides, fire) all can have severe effects on biological soil crust composition and its physiological activity. Studies of these effects will be discussed in this chapter.
Herbicides, functioning as photosynthesis inhibitors, have been shown to kill cyanobacteria and soil algae, resulting in a decrease in polysaccharide production and biomass.  This, in turn, can lead to a reduction in organic matter and increased soil and nutrient loss through erosion. The detrimental effects of herbicides on biocrusts will be investigated on different time-scales within this chapter.
22 Effects of climate change on biological soil crusts (S. Reed, <screed@usgs.gov>)
The effects of climate change on biological soil crusts are expected to be complex. An increase in temperature will reduce soil moisture, especially at the soil surface. Future changes in precipitation amount and patterns will vary between different regions. In areas with fewer precipitation events and lower total amounts of rainfall, biological soil crust coverage is expected to decrease and composition is predicted to shift towards more early-successional biocrust types. As most processes (e.g., nitrogen and carbon fixation) are temperature and moisture dependent, these will be affected as well. On the other hand, arid and semi-arid regions are known to expand and the increased melting rate of glaciers exposes bare soil surfaces, which serve as an ideal habitat for biocrusts to colonize. Thus, the effects of climate change on biocrusts are expected to be variable.
Part VI: Natural and Enhanced Recovery and Management
23 Natural recovery of biological soil crusts after disturbance (B. Weber, <b.weber@mpic.de>)
Natural recovery of biological soil crusts after disturbance has been studied both in descriptive and experimental studies. Whereas many investigations have shown that biocrusts need decades, if not centuries, to completely recover after disturbance, other studies reveal that biocrusts show significant recovery after only a few years. In this chapter, we will examine the data to find the factors (e.g., crust composition, soil, climate, disturbance type) that predict recovery rates.   
24 Enhanced recovery of biological soil crusts after disturbance (Y. Zhao, <zyunge@ms.iswc.ac.cn>)
Different methods to enhance biological soil crust recovery after disturbance have been experimentally investigated. These have included stabilization of the soil surface with polyacrylamide gels, inoculation of disturbed sites with cyanobacterial cultures or field-collected material, and shade structures. These efforts have been differentially successful, and factors leading to success will be discussed.
Part VII: Future Research on biological soil crusts
25 Synthesis on biological soil crust research (B. Weber, <b.weber@mpic.de>)
In the final synthesis chapter, we will summarize the essential new findings regarding the different topics of biocrusts. Additionally, we will identify knowledge gaps and promising new fields of research. We will call for unified approaches to biocrust research and linking of researchers and sites in order to answer pressing questions.