Plant and Soil

, Volume 429, Issue 1–2, pp 53–64 | Cite as

A novel method to evaluate nutrient retention by biological soil crust exopolymeric matrix

  • Tami L. SwensonEmail author
  • Estelle Couradeau
  • Benjamin P. Bowen
  • Roberto De Philippis
  • Federico Rossi
  • Gianmarco Mugnai
  • Trent R. NorthenEmail author
Regular Article



Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are microbial communities commonly found in the upper layer of arid soils. These microorganisms release exopolysaccharides (EPS), which form the exopolymeric matrix (EPM), allowing them to bond soil particles together and survive long periods of dryness. The aim of this work is to develop methods for measuring metabolite retention by biocrust EPM and EPS.


We report new methods for the investigation of metabolite sorption on biocrusts compared to the underlying unconsolidated subcrust fraction. A 13C–labeled bacterial lysate metabolite mixture was incubated with biocrust, subcrust and biocrust-extracted EPS. Non-sorbed metabolites were extracted and analyzed by liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry.


This simple and rapid approach enabled the comparison of metabolite sorption on the biocrust EPM or EPS versus mineral sorption on the underlying soils. Our results suggest that the biocrust (and its extracted EPS) sorb more metabolites, especially amino acids and organic acids, than the underlying subcrust.


This study demonstrates a useful method to highlight the essential role of biocrust (especially the EPM), which acts as a passive nutrient filter, sequestering metabolites released by microbes during wetting events. This may facilitate recovery of the community upon wetting and further enhance biocrust survival and nutrient retention.


Biological soil crusts Exopolymeric matrix Exopolysaccharides Metabolomics Sorption 



exopolymeric matrix




liquid chromatograph-mass spectrometry


X-ray powder diffraction



This work was funded by the Office of Science Early Career Research Program, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, of the U. S. Department of Energy under contract number DE-AC02-05CH11231. We thank Marco Voltolini (LBNL) for his assistance with all of the XRPD experiments and data analysis.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary Figure 1 (PDF 85 kb)
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Supplementary Figure 2 (PDF 69 kb)
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Supplementary Table 1 (XLSX 58 kb)
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Supplementary Table 2 (XLSX 44 kb)
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Supplementary Table 3 (DOCX 56 kb)
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Supplementary Table 4 (XLSX 56 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Genomics and Systems Biology Division, Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Agrifood Production and Environmental SciencesUniversity of FlorenceFlorenceItaly
  3. 3.Institute of Ecosystem Study, CNRSesto FiorentinoItaly
  4. 4.Department of EnergyJoint Genome InstituteWalnut CreekUSA

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