MMU Engage interviewed me for British Science Week to find out about the research being done at MMU by various researchers. In the video I explain how we extracted DNA from the sand of the Kalahari in Botswana, which we then used to identify the microbial communities that glue the desert surface together into a ‘biological soil crust’ (biocrust). Biocrusts are found all over the world and are especially important in areas where plants can’t grow well – such as deserts.
Biocrusts are usually dominated by photosynthetic bacteria of the phylum Cyanobacteria, which can capture both carbon and nitrogen from the air. This makes the biocrust itself much like a plant – it removes carbon dioxide from the air and helps to make the soil more fertile. There are also lots of other known ecosystem effects of biocrusts – such as soil stabilisation and affecting water infiltration and retention. These functions and others are essentially a product of the biocrust microbial community, about which we know very little. It is important to understand biocrusts because they cover an enormous amount of the Earth land surface. On the global scale and with the inclusion of bryophytes (e.g. mosses) and lichens, biocrusts have been estimated to contribute 7 % net primary production and 46 % of biological nitrogen fixation on land (Elbert et al; 2012). You can find out more about our biocrust research here on my website, and more general biocrust information on the geodermatophilia website.
Thanks to Devin Louttit for producing the video.