Warming effects on soil respiration in moss-dominated crusts in the Tengger Desert, northern China

  • Chao Guan
  • Xinrong LiEmail author
  • Ning Chen
  • Peng Zhang
  • Changming Zhao
Regular Article


Background and aims

Despite the important role of biological soil crusts in the soil carbon cycles of desert ecosystems, the responses of soil respiration in biological soil crust-dominated areas to warming are not well understood. The goal of this study was to investigate the expected increases in temperature on soil respiration both diurnally and seasonally in biological soil crust-dominated areas.


We used open-top chambers to simulate warming in the Shapotou region in the Tengger Desert, northern China. An automated soil respiration system was used to measure the soil respiration rates in moss-dominated crusts. The measured environmental variables included the precipitation, volumetric soil water content, air temperature and soil temperature at depths of 0, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cm.


The response of soil respiration to warming is a function of soil moisture following rainfall in desert ecosystems. Our results showed that 1.5 °C of simulated warming significantly decreased soil respiration, indicating that the inhibition of soil respiration was likely due to the reduction in soil water content at a relatively high temperature. Over daily cycles, hourly soil respiration rates have commonly been related to hourly temperatures. The observed diel hysteresis between hourly soil respiration and temperature resulted in semielliptical hysteresis loops, and the temperature often lagged behind soil respiration for several hours. The lag times between soil respiration and temperature were significantly and positively related to the depth of the soil temperature measurements. The proximate reason for the diel hysteresis between soil respiration and temperature was likely a mismatch between the depth of CO2 production and the depth of the temperature measurements.


Our results indicate that warming increases the response of soil respiration to soil water availability in biological soil crust-dominated desert ecosystems. Therefore, the accelerated drying effect of warming on soil respiration and diel soil respiration patterns between soil respiration and temperature at different depths should be considered in future soil carbon cycle models for biological soil crust-dominated desert ecosystems.


Soil respiration Biological soil crust Warming Temperature Diel hysteresis 



We gratefully acknowledge Editor Dr. Matthew A. Bowker and three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments for improving the manuscript. This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41530746).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The authors declare that this paper does not contain any study with human participants or animals.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4255_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (284 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 283 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Grassland Agro-ecosystems, School of Life SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Shapotou Desert Research and Experimental Station, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and ResourcesChinese Academy of SciencesLanzhouChina

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