Plant influences on soil biogeochemistry and taxonomic and functional diversity of soil microbial communities in a hyper-arid desert

Long-term climate change predictions suggest that global surface temperatures will increase by 1.0 to 3.7 °C by the end of this century, which may result in significant shifts in the structure as well as the functionality of terrestrial biological communities. Particularly, drylands may become hotter and drier with greater length and intensity of drought conditions. Increased aridity may reduce vegetation cover in drylands, which, in turn may indirectly affect soil microbial communities and their extracellular enzymes activities. Any change in soil microbial communities may directly influence rates of soil C and N cycling, and therefore regulates soil organic carbon (SOC) pools and stability. Drylands represent about 45% of the terrestrial land surface and they are important to global biogeochemical cycle. These ecosystems account for approximately 20% of the SOC pool. However, the challenge is that we have limited understanding of how soil microbial communities and SOC pools associated with vegetation in these important, yet sensitive systems will respond to the predicted climatic changes. The project aims to measure SOC pools and the stability of these pools associated with plant hummocks in a hyper-arid system. Additionally, the project aims to determine taxonomic and functional diversity of soil microbial communities (in hummock soils and bare ground soil) and to describe plant influences on soil biogeochemistry such as litter decomposition rates in hyper-arid environments, in order to understand how ecological functions may be altered under climate-change future projections in hyper-arid systems.