Abstract

Biological soil crusts (BSCs) are topsoil biosedimentary structures built by photosynthetic microbes commonly found today on arid soils. They play a role in soil stabilization and the fertility of arid lands, and are considered modern analogues of ancient terrestrial microbial communities. We determined the concentrations of four biogenic and 21 other elements, mostly metals, in surface soils that hosted BSCs, in the soils underneath those crusts, and in proximate but non-crusted surface soils. The samples were from six sites in the Colorado Plateau highlands and the Sonoran Desert lowlands. In spite of the variability in climate and geologic setting, we found statistically significant overall trends of enrichment in biogenic elements and depletion in non-biogenic elements when BSCs were compared with non-crusted soils. The differences between crusted and non-crusted soils were statistically significant at ∼95% confidence for C, N (enrichments) and for Ca, Cr, Mn, Cu, Zn, As, and Zr (depletions). These trends are best explained by the activity of microbes. As expected, no differences in the concentrations of C, N, P, and S were detected between the soils underneath the crusts and the non-crusted soils, but the former showed depletion of non-biogenic elements, indicating that the leaching effect of crust microbes extends downward in the soil. These patterns speak to the need for a sustained input of allochthonous material, possibly dust, to maintain BSC fertility. These elemental patterns can be considered a biosignature that may be preserved in the rock record and might help identify ancient microbial communities on land.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)348-359
Number of pages12
JournalGeobiology
Volume7
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2009

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soil crusts
soil crust
biogeochemistry
soil
crust
microorganisms
microbial communities
soil fertility
fertility
microbial community
soil surface
soil stabilization
arid soils
Sonoran Desert
effect
land
arid lands
dust
topsoil
leaching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

Cite this

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title = "Effect of biological soil crusts on soil elemental concentrations: Implications for biogeochemistry and as traceable biosignatures of ancient life on land",
abstract = "Biological soil crusts (BSCs) are topsoil biosedimentary structures built by photosynthetic microbes commonly found today on arid soils. They play a role in soil stabilization and the fertility of arid lands, and are considered modern analogues of ancient terrestrial microbial communities. We determined the concentrations of four biogenic and 21 other elements, mostly metals, in surface soils that hosted BSCs, in the soils underneath those crusts, and in proximate but non-crusted surface soils. The samples were from six sites in the Colorado Plateau highlands and the Sonoran Desert lowlands. In spite of the variability in climate and geologic setting, we found statistically significant overall trends of enrichment in biogenic elements and depletion in non-biogenic elements when BSCs were compared with non-crusted soils. The differences between crusted and non-crusted soils were statistically significant at ∼95{\%} confidence for C, N (enrichments) and for Ca, Cr, Mn, Cu, Zn, As, and Zr (depletions). These trends are best explained by the activity of microbes. As expected, no differences in the concentrations of C, N, P, and S were detected between the soils underneath the crusts and the non-crusted soils, but the former showed depletion of non-biogenic elements, indicating that the leaching effect of crust microbes extends downward in the soil. These patterns speak to the need for a sustained input of allochthonous material, possibly dust, to maintain BSC fertility. These elemental patterns can be considered a biosignature that may be preserved in the rock record and might help identify ancient microbial communities on land.",
author = "H. Beraldi-Campesi and Hilairy Hartnett and Ariel Anbar and Gwyneth Gordon and Ferran Garcia-Pichel",
year = "2009",
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T1 - Effect of biological soil crusts on soil elemental concentrations

T2 - Implications for biogeochemistry and as traceable biosignatures of ancient life on land

AU - Beraldi-Campesi, H.

AU - Hartnett, Hilairy

AU - Anbar, Ariel

AU - Gordon, Gwyneth

AU - Garcia-Pichel, Ferran

PY - 2009/6

Y1 - 2009/6

N2 - Biological soil crusts (BSCs) are topsoil biosedimentary structures built by photosynthetic microbes commonly found today on arid soils. They play a role in soil stabilization and the fertility of arid lands, and are considered modern analogues of ancient terrestrial microbial communities. We determined the concentrations of four biogenic and 21 other elements, mostly metals, in surface soils that hosted BSCs, in the soils underneath those crusts, and in proximate but non-crusted surface soils. The samples were from six sites in the Colorado Plateau highlands and the Sonoran Desert lowlands. In spite of the variability in climate and geologic setting, we found statistically significant overall trends of enrichment in biogenic elements and depletion in non-biogenic elements when BSCs were compared with non-crusted soils. The differences between crusted and non-crusted soils were statistically significant at ∼95% confidence for C, N (enrichments) and for Ca, Cr, Mn, Cu, Zn, As, and Zr (depletions). These trends are best explained by the activity of microbes. As expected, no differences in the concentrations of C, N, P, and S were detected between the soils underneath the crusts and the non-crusted soils, but the former showed depletion of non-biogenic elements, indicating that the leaching effect of crust microbes extends downward in the soil. These patterns speak to the need for a sustained input of allochthonous material, possibly dust, to maintain BSC fertility. These elemental patterns can be considered a biosignature that may be preserved in the rock record and might help identify ancient microbial communities on land.

AB - Biological soil crusts (BSCs) are topsoil biosedimentary structures built by photosynthetic microbes commonly found today on arid soils. They play a role in soil stabilization and the fertility of arid lands, and are considered modern analogues of ancient terrestrial microbial communities. We determined the concentrations of four biogenic and 21 other elements, mostly metals, in surface soils that hosted BSCs, in the soils underneath those crusts, and in proximate but non-crusted surface soils. The samples were from six sites in the Colorado Plateau highlands and the Sonoran Desert lowlands. In spite of the variability in climate and geologic setting, we found statistically significant overall trends of enrichment in biogenic elements and depletion in non-biogenic elements when BSCs were compared with non-crusted soils. The differences between crusted and non-crusted soils were statistically significant at ∼95% confidence for C, N (enrichments) and for Ca, Cr, Mn, Cu, Zn, As, and Zr (depletions). These trends are best explained by the activity of microbes. As expected, no differences in the concentrations of C, N, P, and S were detected between the soils underneath the crusts and the non-crusted soils, but the former showed depletion of non-biogenic elements, indicating that the leaching effect of crust microbes extends downward in the soil. These patterns speak to the need for a sustained input of allochthonous material, possibly dust, to maintain BSC fertility. These elemental patterns can be considered a biosignature that may be preserved in the rock record and might help identify ancient microbial communities on land.

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