Ecology of Environmental Change - eChanges

BIOCRUSTS – Functional Diversity of Biocrusts: Towards Ecosystem Services Quantification in Drylands

  • International Research Project
  • 2014 to 2016

Global change is simultaneously the cause and the consequence of a dramatic biodiversity loss on Earth, with the subsequent degradation of ecosystem services. Understanding the major drivers of ecosystem services delivery is critical to develop sound management and conservation strategies to assure their sustained provision. This is particularly urgent in drylands; one of the most abundant, populated and vulnerable ecosystems in the face of the global change. In this context, functional diversity has emerged as a key concept in ecological research, since it links the range, variety and abundance of functional traits (i.e., attributes of an organism or group of organisms that reflect biological functions) to their effects on ecosystem processes, and thus, on ecosystem services delivery. Previous research on functional diversity has been mostly focused on vascular plants, while the contribution of soil lichens, mosses, and cyanobacteria forming “Biocrusts” has been understudied. However, Biocrusts may be the dominant life form in drylands, where they perform critical functional roles. Our hypothesis is that if we know how Biocrusts affects ecosystem processes, and we are able to model their distribution and abundance, we will have a more precise measure of the ecosystem functions they perform. Consequently, we will be able to quantify their contribution to ecosystem services in drylands. This knowledge will complement and improve the scope of management, conservation and restoration strategies, traditionally focused on species diversity, rather than functional diversity, and regarding vascular plants exclusively. BCSES is developed in a top research centre – cE3c, Portugal- which embraces highly scientific expertise in the field, and advanced research techniques and facilities crucial for the development of BCSES. This project will lean on fruitful collaborations in Europe –Spain, Italy- and internationally –Israel, Arizona-.

Funding Institution:

MC-IEF - Intra-European Fellowships (IEF) [FP7-PEOPLE-2013-IEF - Marie-Curie Action: "Intra-European fellowships for career development"].