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Filling the interspace—restoring arid land mosses: source populations, organic matter, and overwintering govern success

November 1, 2016

Biological soil crusts contribute to ecosystem functions and occupy space that could be available to invasive annual grasses. Given disturbances in the semiarid shrub steppe communities, we embarked on a set of studies to investigate restoration potential of mosses in sagebrush steppe ecosystems. We examined establishment and growth of two moss species common to the Great Basin, USA: Bryum argenteum and Syntrichia ruralis from two environmental settings (warm dry vs. cool moist). Moss fragments were inoculated into a third warm dry setting, on bare soil in spring and fall, both with and without a jute net and with and without spring irrigation. Moss cover was monitored in spring seasons of three consecutive years. Both moss species increased in cover over the winter. When Bryum received spring irrigation that was out of sync with natural precipitation patterns, moss cover increased and then crashed, taking two seasons to recover. Syntrichia did not respond to the irrigation treatment. The addition of jute net increased moss cover under all conditions, except Syntrichia following fall inoculation, which required a second winter to increase in cover. The warm dry population of Bryum combined with jute achieved on average 60% cover compared to the cool moist population that achieved only 28% cover by the end of the study. Differences were less pronounced for Syntrichia where moss from the warm dry population with jute achieved on average 51% cover compared to the cool moist population that achieved 43% cover by the end of the study. Restoration of arid land mosses may quickly protect soils from erosion while occupying sites before invasive plants. We show that higher moss cover will be achieved quickly with the addition of organic matter and when moss fragments originate from sites with a climate that is similar to that of the restoration site.