Albedo feedbacks to future climate via climate change impacts on dryland biocrusts

William A. Rutherford, Thomas H. Painter, Scott Ferrenberg, Jayne Belnap, Gregory S. Okin, Cody Flagg, Sasha C. Reed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Drylands represent the planet's largest terrestrial biome and evidence suggests these landscapes have large potential for creating feedbacks to future climate. Recent studies also indicate that dryland ecosystems are responding markedly to climate change. Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) - soil surface communities of lichens, mosses, and/or cyanobacteria - comprise up to 70% of dryland cover and help govern fundamental ecosystem functions, including soil stabilization and carbon uptake. Drylands are expected to experience significant changes in temperature and precipitation regimes, and such alterations may impact biocrust communities by promoting rapid mortality of foundational species. In turn, biocrust community shifts affect land surface cover and roughness - changes that can dramatically alter albedo. We tested this hypothesis in a full-factorial warming (+4 °C above ambient) and altered precipitation (increased frequency of 1.2 mm monsoon-type watering events) experiment on the Colorado Plateau, USA. We quantified changes in shortwave albedo via multi-angle, solar-reflectance measurements. Warming and watering treatments each led to large increases in albedo (>30%). This increase was driven by biophysical factors related to treatment effects on cyanobacteria cover and soil surface roughness following treatment-induced moss and lichen mortality. A rise in dryland surface albedo may represent a previously unidentified feedback to future climate.

Original languageEnglish
Article number44188
JournalScientific Reports
StatePublished - Mar 10 2017


Dive into the research topics of 'Albedo feedbacks to future climate via climate change impacts on dryland biocrusts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this