Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are prevalent at the surface of terrestrial ecosystems, both transitioning from disturbance, and as a stable and potentially dominant component of drylands. Microbes and non-vascular plants are the primary biocrust agents aggregating the soil surface into a protective photosynthetic skin. For the past two decades especially, researchers have been seeking ways to actively promote the recovery of these communities to boost dryland function after disturbances. Our research focuses on reintroduction of biocrust organisms grown in artificial settings (greenhouses, farms) to degraded environments. In this effort we have encountered several challenges: harsh environmental conditions, lack of field hardiness, loss to wind and water transport, and even loss to insects. We are actively researching practical solutions to these hurdles. Plant-based soil tackifiers potentially retain added biocrusts on site and aid in stabilizing erodible surfaces. Hormones and osmoprotectants potentially buffer some environmental stresses. Adherence of biocrusts to fabrics and other materials or incorporating biocrust organisms into protective pellets may potentially assist with most or all of these problems. As we find solutions to these establishment barriers, we can better use biocrusts to combat and reverse dryland land degradation.
Prof. Matthew Bowker
Establishing Biocrusts to Rehabilitate Drylands: Some Obstacles and Possible Paths Forward
Northern Arizona University, USA