Recovery of soil properties from World War II-era military training exercises in the Mojave Desert was measured approximately 55 years following disturbance. Tracks from military vehicles were still visible, particularly in areas of desert pavement. Soil penetrability was much lower in visible tracks than outside the tracks. Soils in tracks had fewer rocks in the top 10 cm of the soil profile than adjacent untracked soils. Larger particles (> 4.8 mm) formed a moderately well-developed pavement outside of the tracks, while smaller, loose particles (???4.8 mm) dominated the surface of the tracks. The time required to restore the desert pavement is likely to be measured in centuries. Based on biomass estimates, the cyanobacterial component of biological soil crusts had recovered 46-65% in tracks, compared to outside the tracks. Overall recovery of lichen cover has been much slower. Under plant canopies, cover of Collema tenax was not significantly different between areas inside and outside the tracks; however, recovery of Catapyrenium squamulosum was only 36%. In plant interspaces with less favorable moisture and temperature conditions, C. tenax showed a 6% recovery and C. squamulosum a 3% recovery. Assuming recovery of the biological soil crust is linear, and complete only when the most sensitive species (C. squamulosum) has fully recovered in the most limiting microhabitats (plant interspaces), it may require almost two millennia for full recovery of these areas.
Additional publication details
Patton's tracks in the Mojave Desert, USA: An ecological legacy