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- Creators: Shock, Everett
Biological soil crusts (BSCs) are critical components of arid and semiarid environments and provide the primary sources of bioavailable macronutrients and increase micronutrient availability to their surrounding ecosystems. BSCs are composed of a variety of microorganisms that perform a wide range of physiological processes requiring a multitude of bioessential micronutrients, such as iron, copper, and molybdenum. This work investigated the effects of BSC activity on soil solution concentrations of bioessential elements and examined the microbial production of organic chelators, called siderophores. I found that aluminum, vanadium, copper, zinc, and molybdenum were solubilized in the action of crusts, while nickel, zinc, arsenic, and zirconium were immobilized by crust activity. Potassium and manganese displayed behavior consistent with biological removal and mobilization, whereas phosphorus and iron solubility were dominated by abiotic processes. The addition of bioavailable nitrogen altered the effects of BSCs on soil element mobilization. In addition, I found that the biogeochemical activites of BSCs were limited by molybdenum, a fact that likely contributes to co-limitation by nitrogen. I confirmed the presence of siderophore producing microbes in BSCs. Siderophores are low-molecular weight organic compounds that are released by bacteria to increase element solubility and facilitate element uptake; siderophore production is likely the mechanism by which BSCs affect the patterns I observed in soil solution element concentrations. Siderophore producers were distributed across a range of bacterial groups and ecological niches within crusts, suggesting that siderophore production influences the availability of a variety of elements for use in many physiological processes. Four putative siderophore compounds were identified using electrospray ionization mass spectrometry; further attempts to characterize the compounds confirmed two true siderophores. Taken together, the results of my work provide information about micronutrient cycling within crusts that can be applied to BSC conservation and management. Fertilization with certain elements, particularly molybdenum, may prove to be a useful technique to promote BSC growth and development which would help prevent arid land degradation. Furthermore, understanding the effects of BSCs on soil element mobility could be used to develop useful biomarkers for the study of the existence and distribution of crust-like communities on ancient Earth, and perhaps other places, like Mars.