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Practices of biological soil crust rehabilitation in China: Experiences and challenges

February 25, 2020

Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are a central component of dryland ecosystems. However, they are highly vulnerable to disturbance and natural recovery may be slow. Therefore, finding ways to enhance the reestablishment of biocrusts after disturbance has been of great interest to researchers. This article provides a review of the laboratory cultivation and field inoculations of biocrust materials in China (mostly published in Chinese). Larger filamentous cyanobacteria (e.g. Microcoleus) are relatively easy, although slow, to grow in culture compared to other biocrust components. Thus, most researchers have focused their efforts on the cyanobacteria and a few species of mosses that are also easily grown but at smaller scale. For all the studies, a small amount of biocrust material was collected and its biomass enhanced under controlled conditions. However, the enhancement was done using various methods and techniques in different regions. These materials were then applied to disturbed field sites, again with various methods. Results show that keeping the inoculated soil surface wet for some time period after inoculation was crucial for restoration success. Cyanobacterial establishment was improved by installing automatic sprinkling using micro‐irrigation techniques and/or physical structures that reduced sediment moving onto the inoculated area. Experimental applications in China showed that cyanobacteria can be successfully inoculated at a large scale (hundreds of ha). Moss inoculation, on the other hand, was only accomplished at a small scale (several m2). To assess whether biocrust restoration can enhance the establishment of a self‐supporting ecosystem, further research is needed on how inoculation affects vegetation diversity and structure and ecological processes.