image from Elbert et al 2012
There is yet another climate feedback that has been identified. This biogeochemical feedback is presented in the paper
Wolfgang Elbert, Bettina Weber, Susannah Burrows, Jörg Steinkamp, Burkhard Büdel, Meinrat O. Andreae1 and Ulrich Pöschl: 2012 Contribution of cryptogamic covers to the global cycles of carbon and nitrogen, 2012: Nature Geoscience. 3 JUNE 2012 | DOI: 10.1038/NGEO1486
The abstract reads [highlight added]
Many terrestrial surfaces, including soils, rocks and plants, are covered by photoautotrophic communities, capable of synthesizing their own food from inorganic substances using sunlight as an energy source. These communities, known as cryptogamic covers, comprise variable proportions of cyanobacteria, algae, fungi, lichens and bryophytes, and are able to fix carbon dioxide and nitrogen from the atmosphere. However, their influence on global and regional biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nitrogen has not yet been assessed. Here, we analyse previously published data on the spatial coverage of cryptogamic communities, and the associated fluxes of carbon and nitrogen, in different types of ecosystem across the globe. We estimate that globally, cryptogamic covers take up around 3.9 Pg carbon per year, corresponding to around 7% of net primary production by terrestrial vegetation. We derive a nitrogen uptake by cryptogamic covers of around 49 Tg per year, suggesting that cryptogamic covers account for nearly half of the biological nitrogen fixation on land. We suggest that nitrogen fixation by cryptogamic covers may be crucial for carbon sequestration by plants.
The conclusion reads
Overall, our results suggest that cryptogamic covers on ground and plant surfaces are major players in the global biogeochemical cycles of carbon and nitrogen and should thus be explicitly considered in climate and Earth system models. Land-use and climate change are likely to influence the geographic distribution and metabolic activity of cryptogamic covers, which may in turn affect their role in the climate system and represent a previously unrecognized feedback cycle. Regional and seasonal patterns as well as long-term trends in biodiversity, abundance and metabolic activity need to be better characterized for a full understanding of the role of cryptogamic covers in the Earth’s history and future climate.
This previously “unrecognized feedback cycle” will also significantly affect the water cycle, as well as the heat budget of the climate system.