A double edged sunscreen

Photograph of the surface of an arid soil. On the right, the soil is partially covered with young biological crusts whereas on the left the crusts have reached maturity and taken a dark colour. (Credit: Ferran Garcia-Pichel)


Biological soil crusts are unique ecosystems in arid landscapes (whether cold or hot ones) or can be colonisers of habitats disturbed by climatic catastrophes or humans. Recently, a team of scientists examined the capacity of a type of biological crust to produce a kind of sunblock but it seems that this molecule comes with its own harmful costs…

Infographic on the production of sunblock by biological crust: benefits and impact on climate change

Let’s explore the past, interrogate the present and dream the future.
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Couradeau, E. et al. (2015) Bacteria increase arid-land soil surface temperature through the production of sunscreens. Nature communications.
Biotic Soil Crusts.
Williams, Buck and Beyenne (2012) Biological Soil Crusts in the Mojave Desert, USA: Micromorphology and Pedogenesis. Soil Science Society of America Journal.

Visual credits:
The desert outside Chandler, Ariz., shows a darkening of the biocrust (left) over its surface by Ferran Garcia-Pichel (Arizona State University).
Section of a biological crust, Kristina Young, Growing biocrust and putting it into the field!.
Figure 1a of the article by Couradeau et al on the photograph by Ferran Garcia Pichel.
Thermometer measuring ascending temperature, Freepik.
Woman thinking, Freepik.

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