Small-Scale Spatial Heterogeneity of Photosynthetic Fluorescence Associated with Biological Soil Crust Succession in the Tengger Desert, China

Shubin Lan, Andrew Thomas, Stephen Tooth, Li Wu, Chunxiang Hu

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In dryland regions, biological soil crusts (BSCs) have numerous important ecosystem functions. Crust species and functions are, however, highly spatially heterogeneous and remain poorly understood at a range of scales. In this study, chlorophyll fluorescence imaging was used to quantify millimeter-scale patterns in the distribution and activity of photosynthetic organisms in BSCs of different successional stages (including cyanobacterial, lichen, moss three main successional stages and three intermixed transitional stages) from the Tengger Desert, China. Chlorophyll fluorescence images derived from the Imaging PAM (Pulse Amplitude Modulation) showed that with the succession from cyanobacterial to lichen and to moss crusts, crust photosynthetic efficiency (including the maximum and effective photosynthetic efficiency, respectively) and fluorescence coverage increased significantly (P < 0.05), and that increasing photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) reduced the effective photosynthetic efficiency (Yield). The distribution of photosynthetic organisms in crusts determined Fv/Fm (ratio of variable fluorescence to maximum fluorescence) frequency pattern, although the photosynthetic heterogeneity (SHI index) was not significantly different (P > 0.05) between cyanobacterial and moss crusts, and showed a unimodal pattern of Fv/Fm values. In contrast, photosynthetic heterogeneity was significantly higher in lichen, cyanobacteria-moss and lichen-moss crusts (P < 0.05), with a bimodal pattern of Fv/Fm values. Point pattern analysis showed that the distribution pattern of chlorophyll fluorescence varied at different spatial scales and also among the different crust types. These new results provide a detailed (millimeter-scale) insight into crust photosynthetic mechanisms and spatial distribution patterns associated with their community types. Collectively, this information provides an improved theoretical basis for crust maintenance and management in dryland regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)936-948
Number of pages13
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number4
Early online date04 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2019


  • drylands
  • biological soil crusts
  • chlorophyll fluorescence
  • photosynthesis
  • heterogeneity
  • succession
  • Chlorophyll fluorescence
  • Heterogeneity
  • Succession
  • Biological soil crusts
  • Photosynthesis
  • Drylands
  • Cyanobacteria/physiology
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Fluorescence
  • China
  • Lichens/physiology
  • Bryophyta/physiology
  • Desert Climate


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