Research ArticleECOLOGY

Biocrust as one of multiple stable states in global drylands

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Science Advances  25 Sep 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 39, eaay3763
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay3763


Biocrusts cover ~30% of global drylands with a prominent role in the biogeochemical cycles. Theoretically, biocrusts, vascular plants, and bare soil can represent multiple stable states in drylands. However, no empirical evidence for the existence of a biocrust stable state has been reported. Here, using a global drylands dataset, we found that biocrusts form an alternative stable state (biocrust cover, ~80%; vascular cover, ≤10%) besides bare soil (both biocrust and vascular cover, ≤10%) and vascular plants (vascular cover, >50%; biocrust cover, ~5%). The pattern of multiple stable states associated with biocrusts differs from the classic fold bifurcation, and values of the aridity index in the range of 0 to 0.6 define a bistable region where multiple stable states coexist. This study empirically demonstrates the existence and thresholds of multiple stable states associated with biocrusts along climatic gradients and thus may greatly contribute to conservation and restoration of global drylands.

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