About the Lab
Arid lands constitute over 30% of the Earth's terrestrial surface. In arid lands worldwide, composite layers called biocrusts, comprising bacteria, fungi, lichens and mosses, cover the soil between the widely spaced plants. These organisms play vital roles in arid ecosystems: they stabilize the soil from wind and water erosion, benefit plant growth, and, like plants, biocrusts fix atmospheric carbon (CO2) and nitrogen into nutrients in the soil. In collaboration with the US Geological Survey (USGS), Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists are studying how arid land biocrusts adjust to changes in climate (atmospheric CO2, nitrogen deposition, warming temperatures, altered precipitation patterns) and changes in land use. The image above shows a close-up of a biological soil crust (biocrust) showing dark-pigmented microorganisms that use the coloring to protect against strong sunlight.