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Biological soil crusts, consisting of cyanobacteria, green algae, lichens, and mosses, are important in stabilizing soils in semi-arid and arid lands. Integrity of these crusts is compromised by compressional disturbances such as foot, vehicle, or livestock traffic. Using a portable wind tunnel, we found threshold friction velocities (TFVs) of undisturbed crusts well above wind forces experienced at these sites; consequently, these soils are not vulnerable to wind erosion. However, recently disturbed soils or soils with less well-developed crusts frequently experience wind speeds that exceed the stability thresholds of the crusts. Crustal biomass is concentrated in the top 3 mm of soils. Sandblasting by wind can...
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Summers on the Colorado Plateau (USA) are typified by harsh conditions such as high temperatures, brief soil hydration periods, and high UV and visible radiation. We investigated whether community composition, physiological status, and pigmentation might vary in biological soil crusts as a result of such conditions. Representative surface cores were sampled at the ENE, WSW, and top microaspects of 20 individual soil crust pedicels at a single site in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, in spring and fall of 1999. Frequency of cyanobacterial taxa, pigment concentrations, and dark adapted quantum yield [F(v)/F(m)] were measured for each core. The frequency of major cyanobacterial taxa was lower in the fall compared to...
Wind erosion and associated dust emissions play a fundamental role in many ecological processes and provide important biogeochemical connectivity at scales ranging from individual plants up to the entire globe. Yet, most ecological studies do not explicitly consider dust-driven processes, perhaps because most relevant research on aeolian (wind-driven) processes has been presented in a geosciences rather than an ecological context. To bridge this disciplinary gap, we provide a general overview of the ecological importance of dust, examine complex interactions between wind erosion and ecosystem dynamics from the scale of plants and surrounding space to regional and global scales, and highlight specific examples of...
Carbon and nitrogen are supplied by a variety of sources in the desert food web; both vascular and non-vascular plants and cyanobacteria supply carbon, and cyanobacteria and plant-associated rhizosphere bacteria are sources of biological nitrogen fixation. The objective of this study was to compare the relative influence of vascular plants and biological soil crusts on desert soil nematode and protozoan abundance and community composition. In the first experiment, biological soil crusts were removed by physical trampling. Treatments with crust removed had fewer nematodes and a greater relative ratio of bacterivores to microphytophages than treatments with intact crust. However, protozoa composition was similar with...
Future drought is projected to occur under warmer temperature conditions as climate change progresses, referred to here as global-change-type drought, yet quantitative assessments of the triggers and potential extent of drought-induced vegetation die-off remain pivotal uncertainties in assessing climate-change impacts. Of particular concern is regional-scale mortality of overstory trees, which rapidly alters ecosystem type, associated ecosystem properties, and land surface conditions for decades. Here, we quantify regional-scale vegetation die-off across southwestern North American woodlands in 2002-2003 in response to drought and associated bark beetle infestations. At an intensively studied site within the region,...
Question: Can a simple soil classification method, accessible to non-experts, be used to infer properties of the biological soil crust (BSC) communities such as species richness, evenness, and structure? Location: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, an arid region of the Colorado Plateau, USA. Methods: Biological soil crusts are highly functional soil surface communities of mosses, lichens and cyanobacteria that are vulnerable to soil surface disturbances such as grazing. We sampled BSC communities at 114 relatively undisturbed sites. We developed an eight-tier BSC habitat classification based upon soil properties including texture, carbonate and gypsum content, and presence of shrinking-swelling clays....
Recent research suggests that micronutrients such as Mn may limit growth of slow-growing biological soil crusts (BSCs) in some of the drylands of the world. These soil surface communities contribute strongly to arid ecosystem function and are easily degraded, creating a need for new restoration tools. The possibility that Mn fertilization could be used as a restoration tool for BSCs has not been tested previously. We used microcosms in a controlled greenhouse setting to investigate the hypothesis that Mn may limit photosynthesis and consequently growth in Collema tenax, a dominant N-fixing lichen found in BSCs worldwide. We found no evidence to support our hypothesis; furthermore, addition of other nutrients (primarily...
Composite soil samples from 7 sites on San Nicolas Island were evaluated quantitatively and qualitatively for the presence of cyanobacteria and eukaryotic microalgae. Combined data demonstrated a rich algal flora with 19 cyanobacterial and 19 eukaryotic microalgal genera being identified, for a total of 56 species. Nine new species were identified and described among the cyanobacteria and the eukaryotic microalgae that were isolated: Leibleinia edaphica, Aphanothece maritima, Chroococcidiopsis edaphica, Cyanosarcina atroveneta, Hassallia californica, Hassallia pseudoramosissima, Microchaete terrestre, Palmellopsis californicus, and Pseudotetracystis compactis. Distinct distributional patterns of algal taxa existed...
We characterized, at millimeter resolution, bacterial biomass, diversity, and vertical stratification of biological soil crusts in arid lands from the Colorado Plateau. Microscopic counts, extractable DNA, and plate counts of viable aerobic copiotrophs (VAC) revealed that the top centimeter of crusted soils contained atypically large bacterial populations, tenfold larger than those in uncrusted, deeper soils. The plate counts were not always consistent with more direct estimates of microbial biomass. Bacterial populations peaked at the immediate subsurface (1-2 mm) in light-appearing, young crusts, and at the surface (0-1 mm) in well-developed, dark crusts, which corresponds to the location of cyanobacterial populations....
Greenhouse experiments were undertaken to identify soil factors that curtail growth of the exotic annual grass Bromus tectorum L. (cheatgrass) without significantly inhibiting growth of native perennial grasses (here represented by Hilaria jamesii [Torr.] Benth). We grew B. tectorum and H. jamesii alone (monoculture pots) and together (combination pots) in soil treatments that manipulated levels of soil phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. Hilaria jamesii showed no decline when its aboveground biomass in any of the applied treatments was compared to the control in either the monoculture or combination pots. Monoculture pots of B. tectorum showed a decline in aboveground biomass with the addition of Na2HPO4 and K2HPO4....
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For the past several years NPS planners at the Denver Service Center and consultants at University of Minnesota and the University of Vermont CPSUs have been developing a process intended to help park planners and managers address visitor carrying capactiy. The rest of this article summarizes this process, called the Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) process as well as discusses a pilot project at Arches NP. Published in Park Science, volume 4, issue 1, on pages 11 - 13, in 1994.
Categories: Publication; Types: Citation, Journal Citation; Tags: Park Science
Projected increases in aridity throughout the southwestern United States due to anthropogenic climate change will likely cause reductions in perennial vegetation cover, which leaves soil surfaces exposed to erosion. Accelerated rates of dust emission from wind erosion have large implications for ecosystems and human well-being, yet there is poor understanding of the sources and magnitude of dust emission in a hotter and drier climate. Here we use a two-stage approach to compare the susceptibility of grasslands and three different shrublands to wind erosion on the Colorado Plateau and demonstrate how climate can indirectly moderate the magnitude of aeolian sediment flux through different responses of dominant plants...
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This study provides a fast and easy-to-apply method to estimate threshold friction velocity (TFV) of wind erosion in the field. Wind tunnel experiments and a variety of ground measurements including air gun, pocket penetrometer, torvane, and roughness chain were conducted in Moab, Utah and cross-validated in the Mojave Desert, California. Patterns between TFV and ground measurements were examined to identify the optimum method for estimating TFV. The results show that TFVs were best predicted using the air gun and penetrometer measurements in the Moab sites. This empirical method, however, systematically underestimated TFVs in the Mojave Desert sites. Further analysis showed that TFVs in the Mojave sites can be...
Microbiotic crusts are found throughout the world, from the hottest deserts to polar regions. Most of these crusts are dominated by cyanobacteria, and also include lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi, and bacteria. The crusts are critical components of these ecosystems, significantly modifying the surfaces on which they occur. In the cold deserts of the Colorado Plateau region (parts of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico), these crusts are extraordinarily well-developed, and may represent 70-80 percent of the living ground cover. Cyanobacteria, previously called blue-green algae, are the oldest form of life known. The earliest fossils found, called stromatolites and dating back more than 3.5 billion years,...
Categories: Publication; Types: Citation, Journal Citation; Tags: Park Science
In some arid regions, rehabilitation of whole system N-fixation may be strongly facilitated by the recovery of populations of the lichen genus Collema. Identification of the limits to recovery of Collema in apparently suitable habitat should inform selection of rehabilitation techniques. We simultaneously tested the relative importance of three hypothetical limits to Collema recovery: active erosion, resource limitation, and propagule scarcity. We found that in our experimental system, active erosion had no effect on short-term establishment of Collema, whereas propagule addition did enhance recovery and microhabitat (a resource availability gradient) also exerted a strong influence. It is possible that attempts...
Biological soil crust (BSC) communities (composed of lichens, bryophytes, and cyanobacteria) may be more dynamic on short-time scales than previously thought, requiring new and informative short-term monitoring techniques. We used repeat digital photography and image analysis, which revealed a change in area of a dominant BSC lichen, Collema tenax. The data generated correlated well with gross photosynthesis (r=0.57) and carotenoid content (r=0.53), two variables that would be expected to be positively related to lichen area. We also extracted fatty acids from lichen samples and identified useful phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) indicators for the Collema mycobiont (20:1, 15:0, 23:0), and the Collema photobiont (18:3?3)....
Plant invasions have the potential to significantly alter soil microbial communities, given their often considerable aboveground effects. We examined how plant invasions altered the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi of native plant roots in a grassland site in California and one in Utah. In the California site, we used experimentally created plant communities composed of exotic (Avena barbata, Bromus hordeaceus) and native (Nassella pulchra, Lupinus bicolor) monocultures and mixtures. In the Utah semi-arid grassland, we took advantage of invasion by Bromus tectorum into long-term plots dominated by either of two native grasses, Hilaria jamesii or Stipa hymenoides. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi colonizing roots were characterized...
Aeolian dust (windblown silt and clay) is an important component in arid-land ecosystems because it may contribute to soil formation and furnish essential nutrients. Few geologic surfaces, however, have been characterized with respect to dust-accumulation history and resultant nutrient enrichment. We have developed a combination of methods to identify the presence of aeolian dust in arid regions and to evaluate the roles of this dust in ecosystem processes. Unconsolidated sandy sediment on isolated surfaces in the Canyonlands region of the Colorado Plateau differs greatly in mineralogical and chemical composition from associated bedrock, mainly aeolian sandstone. Detrital magnetite in the surficial deposits produces...
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Biological soil crusts are a diverse soil surface community, prevalent in semiarid regions, which function as ecosystem engineers and perform numerous important ecosystem services. Loss of crusts has been implicated as a factor leading to accelerated soil erosion and other forms of land degradation. To support assessment and monitoring efforts aimed at ensuring the sustainability of rangeland ecosystems, managers require spatially explicit information concerning potential cover and composition of biological soil crusts. We sampled low disturbance sites in Grand Staircase?Escalante National Monument (Utah, USA) to determine the feasibility of modeling the potential cover and composition of biological soil crusts...
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Abstract Decomposition is central to understanding ecosystem carbon exchange and nutrient-release processes. Unlike mesic ecosystems, which have been extensively studied, xeric landscapes have received little attention; as a result, abiotic soil-respiration regulatory processes are poorly understood in xeric environments. To provide a more complete and quantitative understanding about how abiotic factors influence soil respiration in xeric ecosystems, we conducted soil- respiration and decomposition-cloth measurements in the cold desert of southeast Utah. Our study evaluated when and to what extent soil texture, moisture, temperature, organic carbon, and nitrogen influence soil respiration and examined whether...


map background search result map search result map Soil Respiration in the Cold Desert Environment of the Colorado Plateau (USA): Abiotic Regulators and Thresholds A simple method to estimate threshold friction velocity of wind erosion in the field Spatial Modeling of Biological Soil Crusts to Support Rangeland Assessment and Monitoring Getting a Handle on Visitor Carrying Capacity - A Pilot Project at Arches National Park Temporal variation in community composition, pigmentation, and F(v)/F(m) of desert cyanobacterial soil crusts. Getting a Handle on Visitor Carrying Capacity - A Pilot Project at Arches National Park Soil Respiration in the Cold Desert Environment of the Colorado Plateau (USA): Abiotic Regulators and Thresholds Temporal variation in community composition, pigmentation, and F(v)/F(m) of desert cyanobacterial soil crusts. A simple method to estimate threshold friction velocity of wind erosion in the field Spatial Modeling of Biological Soil Crusts to Support Rangeland Assessment and Monitoring