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Biological soil crust and disturbance controls on surface hydrology in a semi-arid ecosystem

March 22, 2017

Biological soil crust communities (biocrusts) play an important role in surface hydrologic processes in dryland ecosystems, and these processes may then be dramatically altered with soil surface disturbance. In this study, we examined biocrust hydrologic responses to disturbance at different developmental stages on sandy soils on the Colorado Plateau. Our results showed that all disturbance (trampling, scalping and trampling+scalping) of the early successional light cyanobacterial biocrusts generally reduced runoff. In contrast, trampling well-developed dark-cyano-lichen biocrusts increased runoff and sediment loss relative to intact controls. Scalping did not increase runoff, implying that soil aggregate structure was important to the infiltration process. Well-developed, intact dark biocrusts generally had lower runoff, low sediment loss, and highest aggregate stability whereas the less-developed light biocrusts were highest in runoff and sediment loss when compared to the controls. These results suggest the importance of maintaining the well-developed dark biocrusts, as they are beneficial for lowering runoff and reducing soil loss and redistribution on the landscape. These data also suggest that upslope patches of light biocrust may either support water transport to downslope vegetation patches or alternatively this runoff may place dark biocrust patches at risk of disruption and loss, given that light patches increase runoff and thus soil erosion potential.

Publication Year 2017
Title Biological soil crust and disturbance controls on surface hydrology in a semi-arid ecosystem
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.1691
Authors Akasha M. Faist, Jeffrey E. Herrick, Jayne Belnap, Justin W. Van Zee, Nichole N. Barger
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70188603
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center