Biogeochemical traces and microbe-mineral interactions in the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert

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Title:Main Title: Biogeochemical traces and microbe-mineral interactions in the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert
Description:Abstract: Life found various ways to thrive in hostile desert environments. Common adaptation mechanisms are protection against desiccation and UV radiation in biofilms and biocrusts as well as the hypolithic and endolithic colonization of rocks. One of those hostile regions is the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile with its hyperarid core, counted among the most arid places on Earth. Besides the aridity, life faces severe restrictions in these surroundings, e.g. extremely high UV radiation, scarce nutrient supply, and immense salt concentrations. Still, microbial communities and soil organic matter are crucial for the stability of soils and surface sediments in arid ecosystems. Combining molecular mass spectrometry for lipid biomarkers, scanning electron microscopy, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, we individually investigated two factors that are of particular importance for the stability of dryland landscapes now and in the future: 1) We studied biogeochemical traces (organic remnants) in surface sediments along an aridity gradient with regard to possible decomposition and/or sequestration of organic compounds. 2) We investigated the interaction of lithobiontic and endolithic microbial communities with the mineral surface with special regard to the stability of soil and surface sediment structures in different areas of the Atacama Desert: in the region of the Salar Grande, Pisagua, and the Quebrada da Aroma. We analyzed halite- and calcium sulfate-dominated evaporitic crusts with and without visible microbial colo- nization. Organic traces were present in all investigated samples. Following an aridity gradient along the Quebrada de Aroma from an annual precipitation of about 20 mm to the hyperarid core with approx. 2 mm, we found a decrease in functionalized molecular compounds and plant-derived biomarkers (long-chain fatty acids, sterols) as well as an increase in aromatic hydrocarbons, indicating strongly decomposed remnants of plants and microorganisms. The investigation of halite- and calcium sulfate-dominated evaporitic crusts from the Salar Grande, Pisagua, and Aroma region revealed tight interactions of microorganisms with the mineral substrate. Indications of recent bacterial activity were ubiquitous (e.g. short-chain membrane fatty acids, carbohydrates of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS)). Scanning electron microscopy revealed that especially the microbial EPS within evaporites seems to biochemically stabilize mineral aggregates by agglutination. Moreover, fungal biomarkers showed that fungi and fungal parts of lichen were not only present at the surface of physical soil crusts but form widespread networks in the crusts and thereby contribute significantly to the physical stabilization of soils and surface sediments and erosion protection.
Identifier:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2024.104463 (DOI)
Responsible Party
Creators:Isabel Prater (Author), Helge Missbach-Karmrodt (Author), Kathrin K├Ânig (Author), Daniel Friedrich (Author), Christine Heim (Author)
Funding Reference:Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG): CRC 1211: Earth - Evolution at the Dry Limit
Publication Year:2024
CRC1211 Topic:Surface
Related Subproject:C9
Subjects:Keywords: Geobiology, Biogeochemistry of Soils
Geogr. Information Topic:Biota
File Details
Data Type:Text - Scientific paper
File Size:3.7 MB
Date:Accepted: 12.05.2024
Mime Type:application/pdf
Data Format:PDF
Download Permission:Free
Download Information:Open access publication, also available at
General Access and Use Conditions:According to the CRC1211DB data policy agreement.
Access Limitations:According to the CRC1211DB data policy agreement.
Licence:[Creative Commons] Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Specific Information - Publication
Publication Status:Published
Review Status:Peer reviewed
Publication Type:Article
Article Type:Journal
Source:Global and Planetary Change
Source Website:
Number of Pages:1 (32767 - 32767)
Metadata Details
Metadata Creator:Isabel Prater
Metadata Created:20.06.2024
Metadata Last Updated:20.06.2024
Funding Phase:2
Metadata Language:English
Metadata Version:V50
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