Canyonlands Research Bibliography


Microbiotic Crusts and Ecosystem Processes

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Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences



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Microbiotic crusts are biological soil crusts composed of lichens, cyanobacteria, algae, mosses, and fungi. The biodiversity of these crusts is poorly understood; several cosmopolitan species dominate in most areas, but many species are confined to one or a few sites. Nitrogen fixation by organisms within the crust can be the dominant source of nitrogen input into many ecosystems, although rates of nitrogen input are limited by water availability, temperature, and nitrogen loss from the crust. Photosynthetic rates of the microbiotic crust can be 50% of those observed for higher plants, but the contribution of crusts to carbon cycling is not known. The microbiotic crust binds soil particles together, and this significantly increases soil surface stability and resistance to erosion. Greenhouse studies have found that crusts can enhance seed germination, seedling survivorship, and plant nutrient status, but further experiments are needed under field conditions. Crusts are extremely susceptible to surface disturbance and fire, and disruption of crusts can decrease soil fertility and stability resulting in lower nutrient availability for vascular plants and significant soil loss from the ecosystem.

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