The occurrence and diversity of biological soil crusts (BSC) a thin soil surface layer composed of phototrophic and heterotrophic microorganisms intimately associated with soil particles, are known as strong indicators of ecosystem health and sensitivity to soil surface disturbances and are key factors in the biochemical cycling of carbon and nitrogen in drylands. However, the impact of land use on C and N budgets related to BSC dynamics is poorly understood and hinders the prediction of changes in soil fertility in response to future land use scenarios. In this study, we examined the C and N exchange rates of BSC sampled along a north-south pluviometric gradient of the Sub-Sahel, which provides evidence of increasing human land pressure, leading to a gradient in fallow duration and trampling intensity. We demonstrate that the net and gross photosynthesis by BSC significantly increases with fallow duration and a reduction of trampling intensity, thus affecting BSC fine particles and relative water content. Conversely, no effect of land use was found on N fixation or mineralisation rates, which are instead regulated by the N availability within the crust. Simple statistical models were derived from the relationships between C exchange rates and BSC intrinsic characteristics related to soil surface disturbances. The proposed statistical models were tested for C gas exchange with independent data obtained from a new BSC dataset sampled in Burkina Faso and Niger. A simple equation using BSC fine particle content as a unique variable was found to explain between 60 and 70% of the gross photosynthesis. Our findings will help in mapping photosynthesis and estimating the contribution of BSC to the carbon budget at a regional scale in the dryland area of the Sahel and to further testing of land use change scenarios.