Continuous monitoring of chlorophyll a fluorescence and microclimatic conditions reveals warming-induced physiological damage in biocrust-forming lichens

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Purpose Biocrust communities, which are important regulators of multiple ecosystem functions in drylands, are highly sensitive to climate change. There is growing evidence of the negative impacts of warming on the performance of biocrust constituents like lichens in the field. Here, we aim to understand the physiological basis behind this pattern. Methods Using a unique manipulative climate change experiment, we monitored every 30 minutes and for 9 months the chlorophyll a fluorescence and microclimatic conditions (lichen surface temperature, relative moisture and photosynthetically active radiation) of Psora decipiens, a key biocrust constituent in drylands worldwide. This long-term monitoring resulted in 11,847 records at the thallus-level, which allowed us to evaluate the impacts of ~2.3 °C simulated warming treatment on the physiology of Psora at an unprecedented level of detail. Results Simulated warming and the associated decrease in relative moisture promoted by this treatment negatively impacted the physiology of Psora, especially during the diurnal period of the spring, when conditions are warmer and drier. These impacts were driven by a mechanism based on the reduction of the length of the periods allowing net photosynthesis, and by declines in Yield and Fv/Fm under simulated warming. Conclusion Our study reveals the physiological basis explaining observed negative impacts of ongoing global warming on biocrust-forming lichens in the field. The functional response observed could limit the growth and cover of biocrust-forming lichens in drylands in the long-term, negatively impacting in key soil attributes such as biogeochemical cycles, water balance, biological activity and ability of controlling erosion.
CRUE-CSIC (Acuerdos Transformativos 2022)
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