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Microbial crusts are present on surfaces of soils throughout the world. A key feature of these crusts in arid zones is the abundance of filamentous sheath-forming and polysaccharide-excreting cyanobacteria. Several isolates of cyanobacteria were prepared from crust samples (Nizzana sand dunes, north-western Negev Desert, Israel). Optimal growth conditions for two such isolates of Microcoleus sp. were defined, and the role of the excreted polysaccharides in affecting the hydrological properties of crust-covered sand dunes was studied. Experiments with the native crust microbial population demonstrated the possibility of net primary productivity at both high relative air humidities and low moisture content. Published...
In both field and greenhouse studies, cyanobacterial and cyanolichens of cold-temperature deserts often enhance growth and essential uptake by associated herbs. That effect is associated with better seedling establishment and larger seedlings. The following are possible mechanisms for these effects: (1) the microbiota concentrate essential elements in available forms in soil surface layers, (2) the microbial surface covers are usually darker colored than the soil itself and produce warmer soils during cool seasons when soil water is most available, (3) the gelatinous sheaths of several cyanobacterial genera common on alkaline deserts contain chelating compounds, and (4) conditions that favor persistent microbial...