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Sensitivity of desert cryptograms to air pollutants: soil crusts and rock lichens

January 1, 1991

Parks throughout the West are being faced with increasing air pollution threats from current or proposed industries near their boundaries. For this reason, it is important to understand the effects these industries may have on desert ecosystems. Rock lichens can be excellent biomonitors, acting as early warning systems of impending damage to other components of the desert ecosystem. Cryptogamic crusts, consisting mostly of cyanobacteria and lichens, may not only be excellent bioindicators, but also are an essential part of the desert ecosystem. Their presence is critical for soil stability as well as for the contribution of nitrogen to the ecosystem in a form available to higher plants. Air pollutants, such as emissions from coal-fired power plants, may threaten the healthy functioning of these non-vascular plants. The purpose of this study is to determine if, in fact, air pollutants do have an impact on the physiological functioning of cryptogamic crusts or rock lichens in desert systems and, if so, to what extent.

Some results have already been obtained. Both rock lichens and cryptogamic crusts exhibit physiological damage in the vicinity of the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona. Increased electrolyte leakage and chlorophyll degradation, along with reduced nitrogen fixation, have been found. Preliminary studies comparing sensitivity between substrates indicate that crusts on limestone and sandstone substrates may be more sensitive than those on gypsum.

Publication Year 1991
Title Sensitivity of desert cryptograms to air pollutants: soil crusts and rock lichens
Authors J. Belnap
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Report
Series Number Technical Report NPS/NRAQD/NRTR-91/02
Index ID 70125398
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse