, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 923–933

Diversity and Patch-Size Distributions of Biological Soil Crusts Regulate Dryland Ecosystem Multifunctionality

  • Matthew A. Bowker
  • Fernando T. Maestre
  • Rebecca L. Mau


Recent studies report that multifunctionality—the simultaneous provision of multiple ecosystem functions—in drylands depends on biodiversity. Others report that specific size distributions of vegetation patches indicate overall ecosystem health and function. Using a biocrust (micro-vegetation of mosses, lichens, and cyanobacteria) model system, and multivariate modeling, we determined the relative importance of biodiversity, patch-size distribution, and total abundance to nutrient cycling and multifunctionality. In most cases we explained at least 20%, and up to 65%, of the variation in ecosystem functions, and 42% of the variation in multifunctionality. Species richness was the most important determinant of C cycling, constituting an uncommonly clear link between diversity and function in a non-experimental field setting. Regarding C cycling in gypsiferous soils, we found that patch size distributions with a greater frequency of small to medium patches, as opposed to very small patches, were more highly functional. Nitrogen cycling was largely a function of biocrust cover in two soil types, whereas in gypsiferous soils, more central-tending patch size distributions were less functional with regards to N cycling. All three community properties were about equally important to multifunctionality. Our results highlight the functional role of biotic attributes other than biodiversity, and indicate that high cover and diversity, together with a particular patch-size distribution, must be attained simultaneously to maximize multifunctionality. The results also agree with trends observed with other terrestrial and aquatic communities that more biodiversity is needed to sustain multifunctionality compared to single functions considered independently.


biodiversity drylands enzyme activities lichens mosses patch-size distribution ecosystem multifunctionality mediterranean ecosystems structural equation modeling 

Supplementary material

10021_2013_9644_MOESM1_ESM.doc (2.4 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 2515 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew A. Bowker
    • 1
    • 2
  • Fernando T. Maestre
    • 1
  • Rebecca L. Mau
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Área de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Departamento de Biología y GeologíaUniversidad Rey Juan CarlosMóstolesSpain
  2. 2.School of ForestryNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA

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