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Temporal and abiotic fluctuations may be preventing successful rehabilitation of soil-stabilizing biocrust communities

April 20, 2019

Land degradation is a persistent ecological problem in many arid and semi-arid systems globally (drylands hereafter). Most instances of dryland degradation include some form of soil disturbance and/or soil erosion, which can hinder vegetation establishment and reduce ecosystem productivity. To combat soil erosion, researchers have identified a need for rehabilitation of biological soil crusts (biocrusts), a globally-relevant community of organisms aggregating the soil surface and building soil fertility. The impact of plant and biocrust cover was tested on soil erosion potential in the piñon-juniper woodlands of Bandelier National Monument, NM. Biocrusts were found to be similarly influential to vascular plants in reducing erosion, largely acting by promoting surface roughness. The potential to rehabilitate biocrusts within the Monument was also tested. In a full factorial design, plots were inoculated on eroding soils before the summer monsoon with greenhouse-cultured biocrusts, and administered the erosion intervention treatments of overland water flow barriers (flashing), slash placement, and seeding of vascular plants. Although significant and dynamic changes to soil stability, penetration resistance, and extractable soil nutrients were observed through time, no strong effects with the addition of inoculum, seeding, or erosion intervention treatments were seen. These results suggest possible ways forward to successfully rehabilitate biocrust, including varying the timing of biocrust application, amending inoculum application with different types of soil stabilization techniques, and adding nutrients to soils. The insights gleaned from the lack of response brings us closer to developing effective techniques to arrest soil loss in these important social-ecological dryland systems.

Publication Year 2019
Title Temporal and abiotic fluctuations may be preventing successful rehabilitation of soil-stabilizing biocrust communities
DOI 10.1002/eap.1908
Authors Kristina E. Young, Matthew A. Bowker, Sasha C. Reed, Michael C. Duniway, Jayne Belnap
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70203332
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center