Growth responses of five desert plants as influenced by biological soil crusts from a temperate desert, China

Ecological Research
By:  and 



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 persicumEphedra distachya) and three herbaceous plants (Ceratocarpus arenariusMalcolmia 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.

Publication type Article
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
DOI 10.1007/s11284-015-1305-z
Volume 30
Issue 6
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 1037
Last page 1045
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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