Hypolithic microbial communities develop on the belowground surfaces of translucent stones. These stones are embedded in dryland soils with their dorsal surface exposed, and this allows sufficient light transmission for development of photoautotrophs that dominate these communities. They may be considered as isolated “islands” of biological soil crusts (biocrusts). The major substrates are quartz and marble, and these are ubiquitous in drylands worldwide. They are particularly abundant in desert pavement landscapes that are typical of the most extreme arid drylands, and therefore hypoliths assume a major ecological role under extreme aridity. This chapter describes the hypolithic habitat and how communities assemble at different spatial and temporal scales. Recent advances in understanding the ecological role of hypoliths are discussed, and the potential application of hypolithic systems in applied research is identified.
KeywordsPhotosynthetically Active Radiation Extracellular Polymeric Substance Biological Soil Crust Taklimakan Desert Cold Desert
I wish to thank the many valued colleagues and friends with whom I have studied hypoliths in some of the world’s most beautiful deserts and in particular Jayne Belnap, Yuki Chan, Don Cowan, Donna Lacap, Maggie Lau, Chris McKay, and Kim Warren-Rhodes.
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