The effect of biological soil crusts on throughput of rainwater and N into Lake Michigan sand dune soils

  • Thiet R
  • Boerner R
  • Nagy M
 et al. 
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Biological soil crusts composed of cyanobacteria, green algae, bryophytes, and lichens colonize soils in arid and semiarid ecosystems worldwide and are responsible for significant N input to the soils of these eco- systems. Soil crusts also colonize active sand dunes in more humid regions, but studies of structure and function of such sand dune crusts are lacking. We identified the cyanobacterial, algal, and bryophytic constituents and N production and leachates of biological soil crusts that colonize beach dunes at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore along southern Lake Michigan in Indiana, USA. To determine the role of these crusts in this system, we conducted a greenhouse experiment in which intact soil cores with biological crusts were subjected to artificial rainfall over a full growing season. The volume and N content of leachate from the cores were quantified in relation to degree of crust development, taxonomic compo- sition, rainfall volume and intensity, light intensity, and the presence of plant litter. Net N throughput significantly exceeded N inputs to cores in rainwater. Net N outputs from crusts to subsurface soil ranged from 0. 01 to 0.19 g NH4 +-N m)2 yr)1 and 0.01 to 0.61 g NO3 –Nm)2 yr)1. Thus, total inorganic N inputs associated with biological soil crusts ranged from 0.02 g N m)2 yr)1 to 0.8 g N m)2 yr)1. High volume (‡2 cm) rainfall resulted in more N leaching than low volume events, and plant litter added over the surface of crusted soil cores significantly increased the amount of N in leachate. Exploratory path analysis revealed direct and indirect linkages among environmental factors, crust development, and crust composition in regulating the throughput of H2O and N from these intact soil cores. Biological soil crusts at this site, combined with other properties of the soil surface, substantially increase N inputs to this water- and nutrient-limited sand dune ecosystem

Author-supplied keywords

  • Biological soil crusts
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Ecosystem N budget
  • N fixation
  • Rainwater throughput
  • Sand dunes

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  • Rachel K. Thiet

  • R. E.J. Boerner

  • Moria Nagy

  • Richard Jardine

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