Only a minority of bacteria grow after wetting in both natural and post-mining biocrusts in a hyperarid phosphate mine

Talia Gabay, Osnat Gillor, Yaron Ziv

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are key contributors to desert ecosystem functions, therefore, biocrust restoration following mechanical disturbances is imperative. In the Negev Desert hyperarid regions, phosphate mining has been practiced for over 60 years, destroying soil habitats and fragmenting the landscape. In this study, we selected one mining site restored in 2007, and we used DNA stable isotope probing (DNA-SIP) to identify which bacteria grow in post-mining and adjacent natural biocrusts. Since biocrust communities activate only after wetting, we incubated the biocrusts with H218O for 96g€¯h under ambient conditions. We then evaluated the physicochemical soil properties, chlorophyll a concentrations, activation, and functional potential of the biocrusts. The DNA-SIP assay revealed low bacterial activity in both plot types and no significant differences in the proliferated communities' composition when comparing post-mining and natural biocrusts. We further found no significant differences in the microbial functional potential, photosynthetic rates, or soil properties. Our results suggest that growth of hyperarid biocrust bacteria after wetting is minimal. We hypothesize that due to the harsh climatic conditions, during wetting, bacteria devote their meager resources to prepare for the coming drought, by focusing on damage repair and organic compound synthesis and storage rather than on growth. These low growth rates contribute to the sluggish recovery of desert biocrusts following major disturbances such as mining. Therefore, our findings highlight the need for implementing active restoration practices following mining.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-242
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 May 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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