- Sparse vegetation in semi arid and arid lands is associated with low productivity and minor contribution to biosphere-atmosphere exchange of greenhouse gases, on an area basis. Dryland ecosystems, however, cover large land areas that are continuously increasing. Two third of global population live in semi arid and arid regions and its direct impact contributes to the expansion of dryland ecosystems. Satellite images at the start of the wet season in natural dryland ecosystems clearly show significant photosynthetic activity at a time when most vascular plants are yet inactive or undeveloped, indicating a possibly neglected CO_2 sink. This can likely be assigned to the so-called biological soil crusts (BSC) that consist of poikilohydric microphytes such as cyanobacteria, lichens, green algae, and mosses, which can rapidly recover photosynthesis in response to the earliest water supply. Such non-vascular vegetation activities are an important feature of dryland ecosystems worldwide, often complementary to that of vascular plants. We report on the rates of CO_2 exchange of BSC as measured at two field sites in the northern Negev desert during six months during 2001/2002. Peak rates of net photosynthesis (1.5 - 2 mumol m-2 s-1) were in the range observed in vascular plants, but periods with low or no activities were considerable. Rates of CO_2 exchange of BSC was always compared with that of bare soil / sand. This allowed both estimating net local land surface exchange, and assessing the influence of disturbance, mainly by uncontrolled land use, of the highly vulnerable BSC ecosystems. Simultaneous measurements of spectral reflectance properties of BSC in this study aim to allow calibration of airborne remote sensing for large-scale BSC activity studies.