Biocrusts enhance soil fertility and Bromus tectorum growth, and interact with warming to influence germination

Scott Ferrenberg, Akasha M. Faist, Armin Howell, Sasha C. Reed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Background and aims: Biocrusts are communities of cyanobacteria, mosses, and/or lichens found in drylands worldwide. Biocrusts are proposed to enhance soil fertility and productivity, but simultaneously act as a barrier to the invasive grass, Bromus tectorum, in western North America. Both biocrusts and B. tectorum are sensitive to climate change drivers, yet how their responses might interact to affect dryland ecosystems is unclear. Methods: Using mesocosms with bare soil versus biocrust cover, we germinated B. tectorum seeds collected from warmed, warmed + watered, and ambient temperature plots within a long-term climate change experiment on the Colorado Plateau, USA. We characterized biocrust influences on soil fertility and grass germination, morphology, and chemistry. Results: Biocrusts increased soil fertility and B. tectorum biomass, specific leaf area (SLA), and root:shoot ratios. Germination rates were unaffected by mesocosm cover-type. Biocrusts delayed germination timing while also interacting with the warmed treatment to advance, and with the warmed + watered treatment to delay germination. Conclusions: Biocrusts promoted B. tectorum growth, likely through positive influence on soil fertility which was elevated in biocrust mesocosms, and interacted with seed treatment-provenance to affect germination. Understanding how anticipated losses of biocrusts will affect invasion dynamics will require further investigation of how plant plasticity/adaptation to specific climate drivers interact with soil and biocrust properties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-90
Number of pages14
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018


  • Biocrusts
  • Bromus tectorum
  • Cheatgrass
  • Drylands
  • Nitrogen
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Provenance
  • Soil fertility


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