Biological Soil Crust Diversity and Composition in Southwest Idaho, U.S.A.

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Biological soil crusts (BSCs) were sampled by habitat types within and adjacent to the Orchard Combat Training Center (OCTC) in southwest Idaho, U.S.A. Plots consisting of a 34.7 m radius circle, approximately equal to one acre or 0.38 hectares were sampled. We focused on five native vascular plant-dominated current habitat types within the OCTC, including: 1) Wyoming sagebrush, 2) saltbush, 3) rabbitbrush, 4) winterfat, and 5) Sandberg bluegrass. We describe how BSC cover and species richness varied with habitat types in the study area. We recorded the relative abundance of BSCs and vascular plant species and collected voucher specimens for each BSC. The biodiversity of each BSC in these arid habitat types was much greater than many ecologists have assumed. We found a total of 68 species of BSC across all 17 plots. BSC cover differed significantly across the different habitat types. BSC cover was significantly higher in sagebrush and saltbush as compared with Poa, rabbitbrush and winterfat habitat types. Overall, there was substantially more BSC richness (17–47 species) than vascular plant richness (4– 13 species), and BSC richness was positively related to vascular plant richness (R2=0.18, p=0.041). On average, each additional plant species was associated with 1.36 additional BSC species. BSC communities also varied across the habitat types with Buellia punctata as a significant indicator species for sagebrush, Toninia sedifolia for saltbush, and Cladonia pocillum for winterfat. Several BSC species were associated with 2 or 3 habitat types; for example, Cladonia fimbriata, Diploschistes muscorum, Leptogium lichenoides, Massalongia carnosa, Riccia sorocarpa and Trapeliopsis steppica were most common in the sagebrush, Poa, and rabbitbrush habitats. In contrast, Caloplaca tominii, Endocarpon loscosii, Placidium squamulosum and Psora tuckermanii were most common in winterfat and saltbush habitats.