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Soil fertility in deserts: A review on the influence of biological soil crusts and the effect of soil surface disturbance on nutrient inputs and losses

February 12, 2013

Sources of desert soil fertility include parent material weathering, aeolian deposition, and on-site C and N biotic fixation. While parent materials provide many soil nutrients, aeolian deposition can provide up to 75% of plant-essential nutrients including N, P, K, Mg, Na, Mn, Cu, and Fe. Soil surface biota are often sticky, and help retain wind-deposited nutrients, as well as providing much of the N inputs. Carbon inputs are from both plants and soil surface biota. Most desert soils are protected by cyanobacterial-lichen-moss soil crusts, chemical crusts and/or desert pavement. Experimental disturbances applied in US deserts show disruption of soil surfaces result in decreased N and C inputs from soil biota by up to 100%. The ability to glue aeolian deposits in place is compromised, and underlying soils are exposed to erosion. The ability to withstand wind increases with biological and physical soil crust development. While most undisturbed sites show little sediment production, disturbance by vehicles or livestock produce up to 36 times more sediment production, with soil movement initiated at wind velocities well below commonly-occurring wind speeds. Soil fines and flora are often concentrated in the top 3 mm of the soil surface. Winds across disturbed areas can quickly remove this material from the soil surface, thereby potentially removing much of current and future soil fertility. Thus, disturbances of desert soil surfaces can both reduce fertility inputs and accelerate fertility losses.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2003
Title Soil fertility in deserts: A review on the influence of biological soil crusts and the effect of soil surface disturbance on nutrient inputs and losses
DOI
Authors Jayne Belnap, S. Phillips, M. Duniway, Richard L. Reynolds
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Series Title
Series Number
Index ID 70178436
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center