Biological soil crusts, consisting of cyanobacteria, green algae, lichens, and mosses, are important in stabilizing soils in semi-arid and arid lands. Integrity of these crusts is compromised by compressional disturbances such as foot, vehicle, or livestock traffic. Using a portable wind tunnel, we found threshold friction velocities (TFVs) of undisturbed crusts well above wind forces experienced at these sites; consequently, these soils are not vulnerable to wind erosion. However, recently disturbed soils or soils with less well-developed crusts frequently experience wind speeds that exceed the stability thresholds of the crusts. Crustal biomass is concentrated in the top 3 mm of soils. Sandblasting by wind can quickly remove this material, thereby reducing N and C inputs from these organisms. This loss can result in reduced site productivity, as well as exposure of unprotected subsurface sediments to wind and water erosion. Actions to reduce impacts to these crusts can include adjustments in type, intensity, and timing of use.
Additional publication details
Vulnerability of desert biological soil crusts to wind erosion: The influences of crust development, soil texture, and disturbance