Nutrient availability affects pigment production but not growth in lichens of biological soil crusts

Matthew A. Bowker, George W. Koch, Jayne Belnap, Nancy C. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Recent research suggests that micronutrients such as Mn may limit growth of slow-growing biological soil crusts (BSCs) in some of the drylands of the world. These soil surface communities contribute strongly to arid ecosystem function and are easily degraded, creating a need for new restoration tools. The possibility that Mn fertilization could be used as a restoration tool for BSCs has not been tested previously. We used microcosms in a controlled greenhouse setting to investigate the hypothesis that Mn may limit photosynthesis and consequently growth in Collema tenax, a dominant N-fixing lichen found in BSCs worldwide. We found no evidence to support our hypothesis; furthermore, addition of other nutrients (primarily P, K, and Zn) had a suppressive effect on gross photosynthesis (P = 0.05). We also monitored the growth and physiological status of our microcosms and found that other nutrients increased the production of scytonemin, an important sunscreen pigment, but only when not added with Mn (P = 0.01). A structural equation model indicated that this effect was independent of any photosynthesis-related variable. We propose two alternative hypotheses to account for this pattern: (1) Mn suppresses processes needed to produce scytonemin; and (2) Mn is required to suppress scytonemin production at low light, when it is an unnecessary photosynthate sink. Although Mn fertilization does not appear likely to increase photosynthesis or growth of Collema, it could have a role in survivorship during environmentally stressful periods due to modification of scytonemin production. Thus, Mn enrichment should be studied further for its potential to facilitate BSC rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2819-2826
Number of pages8
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2008


  • Arid lands
  • Cryptogams
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Ecological restoration
  • Fatty acids
  • Micronutrient limitation
  • Stress tolerance
  • Structural equation model
  • Symbiosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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