Evaporation of soil moisture is one of the most important processes affecting water availability in semiarid ecosystems. Biological soil crusts, which are widely distributed ground cover in these ecosystems, play a recognized role on water processes. Where they roughen surfaces, water residence time and thus infiltration can be greatly enhanced, whereas their ability to clog soil pores or cap the soil surface when wetted can greatly decrease infiltration rate, thus affecting evaporative losses. In this work, we compared evaporation in soils covered by physical crusts, biological crusts in different developmental stages and in the soils underlying the different biological crust types. Our results show that during the time of the highest evaporation (Day 1), there was no difference among any of the crust types or the soils underlying them. On Day 2, when soil moisture was moderately low (11%), evaporation was slightly higher in well-developed biological soil crusts than in physical or poorly developed biological soil crusts. However, crust removal did not cause significant changes in evaporation compared with the respective soil crust type. These results suggest that the small differences we observed in evaporation among crust types could be caused by differences in the properties of the soil underneath the biological crusts. At low soil moisture (<6%), there was no difference in evaporation among crust types or the underlying soils. Water loss for the complete evaporative cycle (from saturation to dry soil) was similar in both crusted and scraped soils. Therefore, we conclude that for the specific crust and soil types tested, the presence or the type of biological soil crust did not greatly modify evaporation with respect to physical crusts or scraped soils.
Additional publication details
Evaporative losses from soils covered by physical and different types of biological soil crusts