Plant and Soil

, Volume 429, Issue 1–2, pp 19–34 | Cite as

Complex role of the polymeric matrix in biological soil crusts

  • Federico Rossi
  • Gianmarco Mugnai
  • Roberto De PhilippisEmail author
Regular Article



Extracellular polymeric matrix (EPM) is a complex component of the organo-mineral assemblages created by biological soil crusts (BSCs). Mainly of polysaccharidic origin, it embeds soil and sediments and provides key benefits to the crust community. Services provided include: sediment cohesion and resistance to erosion, moisture provision, protection from external harmful factors, as well as support to plant establishment and growth. EPM is the product of BSC microbial community, and it is constituted by exopolysaccharides (EPS) associated to other substances, organized in a three-dimensional structure having different levels of gelation, and degrees of condensation.


This review aims at focusing scientific attention, for the first time, on the characteristics and the roles of three operationally defined EPM fractions, one water soluble, one more adherent to cells and sediments, and one firmly attached to microbial cells. The latest results obtained by analyzing EPM of natural and induced (i.e, the result of cyanobacteria inoculation) BSCs are outlined, and the optimized extraction methodology is described in details.


The review underlines the complexity of investigating the characteristics and the role of microbial EPS, and its supra-structure (EPM), in natural conditions (as opposed to cultures in laboratory conditions), where the matrix is subjected to continuous microbial rearrangement due to biosynthetic, self- and cross-feeding processes, and where microbial activity affected by environmental parameters.


Biological soil crusts (BSCs) Cyanobacteria Microalgae Microfungi Exopolysaccharides (EPS) EPS extraction Extracellular polymeric matrix (EPM) 



The authors wish to acknowledge the Editor Matthew Bowker and the two anonymous Reviewers for their helpful comments to the manuscript, which contributed to largely improve its final version.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agrifood Production and Environmental SciencesUniversity of FlorenceFlorenceItaly
  2. 2.Institute of Ecosystems study, Italian National Research Council (CNR)FlorenceItaly

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