Open Access Research

Long-term changes in biological soil crust cover and composition

Eva Dettweiler-Robinson1*, Jeanne M Ponzetti2 and Jonathan D Bakker3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, MSC03 2020, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, 98131, U.S.A

2 2914 Central St. SE, Olympia, WA, 98501, U.S.A

3 School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Box 354115, Seattle, WA, 98195-4115, U.S.A

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Ecological Processes 2013, 2:5  doi:10.1186/2192-1709-2-5

Published: 12 March 2013

Abstract

Introduction

Communities change over time due to disturbances, variations in climate, and species invasions. Biological soil crust communities are important because they contribute to erosion control and nutrient cycling. Crust types may respond differently to changes in environmental conditions: single-celled organisms and bryophytes quickly recover after a disturbance, while lichens are slow growing and dominate favorable sites. Community change in crusts has seldom been assessed using repeated measures. For this study, we hypothesized that changes in crust composition were related to disturbance, topographic position, and invasive vegetation.

Methods

We monitored permanent plots in the Columbia Basin in 1999 and 2010 and compared changes in crust composition, cover, richness, and turnover with predictor variables of herbivore exclosure, elevation, heat load index, time since fire, presence of an invasive grass, and change in cover of the invasive grass.

Results

Bryophytes were cosmopolitan with high cover. Dominant lichens did not change dramatically. Indicator taxa differed by monitoring year. Bryophyte and total crust cover declined, and there was lower turnover outside of herbivore exclosures. Lichen cover did not change significantly. Plots that burned recently had high turnover. Increase in taxon richness was correlated with presence of an invasive grass in 1999. Change in cover of the invasive grass was positively related to proportional loss and negatively related to gain.

Conclusions

Composition and turnover metrics differed significantly over 11 years, though cover was more stable between years. This study can be a baseline for assessing change in crust composition due to anthropogenic influences.

Keywords:
Biological soil crust; Columbia basin; Composition change; Taxa turnover rate; Fire; Bromus tectorum; Livestock exclosure