Scientists have discovered that the desert’s biocrust plays a previously unknown role in regulating the arid climate. This “living skin of the desert” goes by different names. You may have seen signs in parks and protected areas advising you not to step on “cryptobiotic soil,” or read about “biocrusts.” Each refers to the same thing: a community of mosses, lichens, and sometimes cyanobacteria in various proportions that is critical to human and ecosystem health and climate in the Southwest and other dryland areas.
Climate change is predicted to threaten many species with extinction, but determining how species will respond in the future is difficult. Dozens of studies have already demonstrated that species are shifting their geographic ranges over time as the climate warms, towards cooler habitats at higher elevations and latitudes.