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Biological soil crusts as soil stabilizers

June 21, 2016

Soil erosion is of particular concern in dryland regions, as the sparse cover of vascular plants results in large interspaces unprotected from the erosive forces of wind and water. Thus, most of these soil surfaces are stabilized by physical or biological soil crusts. However, as drylands are extensively used by humans and their animals, these crusts are often disturbed, compromising their stabilizing abilities. As a result, approximately 17.5% of the global terrestrial lands are currently being degraded by wind and water erosion. All components of biocrusts stabilize soils, including green algae, cyanobacteria, fungi, lichens, and bryophytes, and as the biomass of these organisms increases, so does soil stability. In addition, as lichens and bryophytes live atop the soil surface, they provide added protection from raindrop impact that cyanobacteria and fungi, living within the soil, cannot. Much research is still needed to determine the relative ability of individual species and suites of species to stabilize soils. We also need a better understanding of why some individuals or combination of species are better than others, especially as these organisms become more frequently used in restoration efforts.