In almost all dryland systems, biological soil crusts (biocrusts) coexist alongside herbaceous and woody vegetation, creating landscape mosaics of vegetated and biocrusted patches. Results from past studies on the interaction between biocrusts and vascular plants have been contradictory. In the Gurbantunggut desert, a large temperate desert in northwestern China, well-developed lichen-dominated crusts dominate the areas at the base and between the sand dunes. We examined the influence of these lichen-dominated biocrusts on the germination, growth, biomass accumulation, and elemental content of five common plants in this desert: two shrubs (Haloxylon persicum, Ephedra distachya) and three herbaceous plants (Ceratocarpus arenarius, Malcolmia africana and Lappula semiglabra) under greenhouse conditions. The influence of biocrusts on seed germination was species-specific. Biocrusts did not affect percent germination in plants with smooth seeds, but inhibited germination of seeds with appendages that reduced or eliminated contact with the soil surface or prevented seeds from slipping into soil cracks. Once seeds had germinated, biocrusts had different influences on growth of shrub and herbaceous plants. The presence of biocrusts increased concentrations of nitrogen but did not affect phosphorus or potassium in tissue of all tested species, while the uptake of the other tested nutrients was species-specific. Our study showed that biocrusts can serve as a biological filter during seed germination and also can influence growth and elemental uptake. Therefore, they may be an important trigger for determining desert plant diversity and community composition in deserts.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Growth responses of five desert plants as influenced by biological soil crusts from a temperate desert, China|
|Series title||Ecological Research|
|Contributing office(s)||Southwest Biological Science Center|
|Online Only (Y/N)||N|
|Additional Online Files (Y/N)||N|