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Microphytic crusts form at the soil surface in arid and semiarid rangelands. They bind soil particles together and purportedly influence hydrologic and stability responses to rainfall. We tested this influence in a designed rainfall simulation experiment conducted on a sandy lam site in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah, that had been protected from livestock and human traffic for two to three years. Treatments consisted of microphytic crust conditions: 1) living and undisturbed (control); 2) chemically killed to determine structural influence (chemically killed), and mechanically removed from the soil surface (scalped) to approximate conditions of absence. Microphytic crusts in control and chemically killed treatments...
Anthropogenic activity is causing dramatic changes in the nitrogen (N) cycle in many ecosystems. Most research has focused on the increase in N input caused by atmospheric deposition and invasion of N-fixing species, and on their effects on resource availability and species composition. However, in contrast to many ecosystems experiencing large increases in N input, many arid ecosystems are experiencing loss of nutrients due to land-use change. An important component of many arid ecosystems on a worldwide basis is the microbiotic crust, a biological soil crust composed of lichens, cyanobacteria, mosses, and algae. Nitrogen fixation by lichens and cyanobacteria comprising the crust is the primary source of N input...
Biological soil crusts of arid and semiarid lands contribute significantly to ecosystem stability by means of soil stabilization, nitrogen fixation, and improved growth and establishment of vascular plant species. In this study, we examined growth and nutrient content of Bromus tectorum, Elymus elymoides, Gaillardia pulchella, and Sphaeralcea munroana grown in soil amended with one of three levels of biological soil crust material: (1) a low-fertility sand collected near Moab, Utah; (2) sand amended with a 1-cm top layer of excised soil crust; and (3) crushed crust material. In addition, all plants were inoculated with spores of the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus, Glomus intraradices. Plants were harvested after...
Rainfall simulation experiments were performed on 25 plots of varying microphytic crust cover in a wooded semiarid rangeland in eastern Australia. Under a rainfall intensity of 45 mm h-1, steady-state infiltration ranged from 5 mm h-1 to 41 mm h-1, but there was no effect of cover on this or any of the other soil hydrological variables measured. When disturbed plots with low cover (<15% cover) were excluded from the analyses, significant increases in time to ponding were associated with increases in crust cover. Despite some significant relationships, however, crust cover was an insignificant predictor of soil hydrological status at this site. We attribute this to the well-structured nature of the soils at the site,...
Biological soil crusts can be the dominant source of N for arid land ecosystems. We measured potential N fixation rates biweekly for 2 years, using three types of soil crusts: (1) crusts whose directly counted cells were >98% Microcoleus vaginatus (light crusts); (2) crusts dominated by M. vaginatus, but with 20% or more of the directly counted cells represented by Nostoc commune and Scytonema myochrous (dark crusts); and (3) the soil lichen Collema sp. At all observation times, Collema had higher nitrogenase activity (NA) than dark crusts, which had higher NA than light crusts, indicating that species composition is critical when estimating N inputs. In addition, all three types of crusts generally responded in...
Cryptobiotic soil crusts are an important component of semiarid and arid ecosystems. An important role of these crusts is the contribution of fixed nitrogen to cold-desert ecosystems. This study examines the residual effects of various intensities and combinations of different surface disturbances (raking, scalping, and tracked vehicles) on nitrogenase activity, chlorophyll content, and chlorophyll degradation in these soil crusts. Nine months after disturbance chlorophyll content of disturbed soils was not statistically different from undisturbed controls, except in the scalped treatments, indicating recovery of this characteristic is fairly quick unless surface material is removed. Differences in chlorophyll degradation...
Anthropogenic activity is causing dramatic changes in the nitrogen (N) cycle in many ecosystems. Most research has focused on the increase in N input caused by atmospheric deposition and invasion of N-fixing species, and on their effects on resource availability and species composition. However, in contrast to many ecosystems experiencing large increases in N input, many arid ecosystems are experiencing loss of nutrients due to land-use change. An important component of many arid ecosystems on a worldwide basis is the microbiotic crust, a biological soil crust composed of lichens, cyanobacteria, mosses, and algae. Nitrogen fixation by lichens and cyanobacteria comprising the crust is the primary source of N input...