Biological Soil of Crusts of North American Drylands: Cryptic Diversity at Risk

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Biological soil crusts (BSC) help to protect the soil from erosion and decrease the spread of weeds (Belnap et al., 2001). Biocrusts exert a strong influence on hydrological processes in drylands by modifying numerous soil properties that affect water retention and movement in soils. Biocrusts are common components of all arid systems worldwide. Biological soil crusts are composed of mosses, lichens, cyanobacteria, algae, and fungi. These components compliment the shrubs, grasses, and forbs that they co-occur with. Like spokes in a bicycle wheel BSC are critical for the many biological interactions in these ecosystems. Loss of BSC leads to soil loss, erosion, disruption of normal mineral cycling and alters successional patterns (Eldridge et al., 2020; Belnap et al., 2001). They play a major role in ecosystem functioning, landscape and soil stability, and in processes such as nitrogen fixation, biomass production, and the regulation of infiltration in localized areas (Eldridge and Greene, 1994).