Biological soil crusts in ecological restoration: Emerging research and perspectives

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Drylands encompass over 40% of terrestrial ecosystems and face significant anthropogenic degradation causing a loss of ecosystem integrity, services, and deterioration of social‐ecological systems. To combat this degradation, some dryland restoration efforts have focused on the use of biological soil crusts (biocrusts): complex communities of cyanobacteria, algae, lichens, bryophytes, and other organisms living in association with the top millimeters of soil. Biocrusts are common in many ecosystems and especially drylands. They perform a suite of ecosystem functions: stabilizing soil surfaces to prevent erosion, contributing carbon through photosynthesis, fixing nitrogen, and mediating the hydrological cycle in drylands. Biocrusts have emerged as a potential tool in restoration; developing methods to implement effective biocrust restoration has the potential to return many ecosystem functions and services. Although culture‐based approaches have allowed researchers to learn about the biology, physiology, and cultivation of biocrusts, transferring this knowledge to field implementation has been more challenging. A large amount of research has amassed to improve our understanding of biocrust restoration, leaving us at an opportune time to learn from one another and to join approaches for maximum efficacy.

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