Lichens are one of the common dominant biota in biological soil crusts (biocrusts), a community that is one of the largest in extent in the world. Here we present a summary of the main features of the lifestyle of soil crust lichens, emphasizing their habitat, ecophysiology and versatility. The soil crust is exposed to full light, often to high temperatures and has an additional water source, the soil beneath the lichens. However, despite the open nature of the habitat the lichens are active under shady and cooler conditions and avoid climate extremes of high temperature and light. In temperate and alpine habitats they can also be active for long periods, several months in some cases. They show a mixture of physiological constancy (e.g. similar activity periods and net photosynthetic rates) but also adaptations to the habitat (e.g. the response of net photosynthesis to thallus water content can differ for the same lichen species in Europe and the USA and some species show extensive rhizomorph development). Despite recent increased research, aspects of soil crust ecology, for example under snow, remain little understood.