Ecohydrological role of biological soil crusts in drylands

Biocrust ImageAn interdisciplinary team of field ecologists and ecohydrology modelers led by Kristen Whitney studied the importance of biological soil crusts to soil water balance in drylands in their new paper published in Ecohydrology. Scientists from ASU and USGS combined long-term field experiments and simulation modeling to show that biocrusts play a very important role in water cycling in arid ecosystems. Biocrusts can cover up to 70% of the soil surface in drylands. However, their competing effects on soil hydrologic conditions are rarely accounted for in models. This very interesting work shows how biocrusts of different levels of development exert significant and strong effects on most water cycle pathways. Highly developed biocrusts act as a stronger buffer to subsoil water losses via evapotranspiration. This work not only contributes to the understanding of the water cycle in drylands but also shows the importance of interdisciplinary research through the use of complementary tools. Read the full article.