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Biological soil crust ecology in the hot Mojave Desert is poorly understood with regard to crust distribution and abundance, as well as the impacts of trampling disturbance on crust development. Our objective was to study biological soil crusts in 2 areas of differing disturbance pressures in the high desert region of Joshua Tree National Park, California, with respect to visible crust cover and frequency, chlorophyll a, and soil stability. Impacts on biological soil crusts from 2 disturbance regimes, historic grazing and recent high knot traffic, were compared using a disturbance indicator. In addition, we measured a suite of abiotic and biotic soil parameters commonly associated with crust abundance and distribution and characterized occurrence with respect to 3 geomorphic features (pockets, slopes, and wash banks). Individual physical and chemical soil parameters historically have been associated with crust development. In contrast, this study demonstrates that geomorphic features with a suite of soil properties clearly impacted crust development. In both study areas, wash banks showed the best crust development (51.%-52% total crust cover) and slopes showed the poorest crust development (<37% total crust cover). Lichens and mosses were best developed in the pocket areas (1.1% and 1.5% cover, 25%-30% frequency), which can accumulate and retain moisture during and following precipitation events. Our disturbance index suggested that the high-foot-traffic area, being associated with a reduction in visible crust cover, hiss experienced inure recent disturbance than the historically grazed sites. However, despite the reduction in cover, the high-foot-traffic area had more lichen and moss crusts, indicating that the crusts in this area are more successionally mature. In contrast, the historically grazed area showed clear signs of recovery from past grazing disturbance, with a higher visual cover of biological soil crusts. However, crusts also had lower biomass values, supporting an earlier successional stage. Overall, we conclude that biological soil crusts of the Mojave Desert are very different in composition, form, and ecology than crusts of other desert regions of North America.


Pietrasiak, N., Johansen, J.R., La Doux, T., Graham, R.C. Comparison of Disturbance Impacts to and Spatial Distribution of Biological Soil Crusts in the Little San Bernardino Mountains of Joshua Tree National Park, California. Western North American Naturalist. 2011;71(4):539-552.

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