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Maximizing establishment and survivorship of field-collected and greenhouse-cultivated biocrusts in a semi-cold desert

Antoninka, Anita, Bowker, Matthew A., Chuckran, Peter, Barger, Nichole N., Reed, Sasha, Belnap, Jayne
Plant and soil 2018 v.429 no.1-2 pp. 213-225
Cyanobacteria, arid lands, biological soil crusts, biomass, chlorophyll, ecological function, hydrology, lichens, mosses and liverworts, species diversity, survival rate
AIMS: Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are soil-surface communities in drylands, dominated by cyanobacteria, mosses, and lichens. They provide key ecosystem functions by increasing soil stability and influencing soil hydrologic, nutrient, and carbon cycles. Because of this, methods to reestablish biocrusts in damaged drylands are needed. Here we test the reintroduction of field-collected vs. greenhouse-cultured biocrusts for rehabilitation. METHODS: We collected biocrusts for 1) direct reapplication, and 2) artificial cultivation under varying hydration regimes. We added field-collected and cultivated biocrusts (with and without hardening treatments) to bare field plots and monitored establishment. RESULTS: Both field-collected and cultivated cyanobacteria increased cover dramatically during the experimental period. Cultivated biocrusts established more rapidly than field-collected biocrusts, attaining ~82% cover in only one year, but addition of field-collected biocrusts led to higher species richness, biomass (as assessed by chlorophyll a) and level of development. Mosses and lichens did not establish well in either case, but late successional cover was affected by hardening and culture conditions. CONCLUSIONS: This study provides further evidence that it is possible to culture biocrust components from later successional materials and reestablish cultured organisms in the field. However, more research is needed into effective reclamation techniques.