Biocrust research

ESRC work on biological soil crusts (biocrusts) spans disciplinary boundaries and engages a diverse team of international collaborators. Focusing on drylands, this research aims to enhance our understanding of soil function in areas where vegetation is not the dominant land cover. In these places microbes control the interface between atmosphere and pedosphere – regulating fluxes of matter and energy as part of their ecological strategies for survival at the soil surface.

Drylands cover over 40 % of the Earth land surface but there are very few studies to date identifying the structure and function of their microbial communities, because most soil research has focused on temperate and agricultural systems. By addressing this knowledge gap the ESRC contributes to informed land management relevant to sustainable goals such as maximising carbon storage, minimising greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing soil fertility, and prevention of dust storms. 

Related to biocrusts in drylands, ESRC researchers also investigate the role of microbes in other environments where vascular plants are unable to dominate the landscape – such as peatlands and glaciers. These studies fall under the biocrusts research umbrella and the objectives are similar – seeking to explain and understand the role of microbes in the environment to support sustainable management of the environment. 

Contact: Dr David Elliott