Effects of inoculated Microcoleus vaginatus on the structure and function of biological soil crusts of desert

Yunpu Zheng, Ming Xu, Jiancheng Zhao, Shuqing Bei, Lihua Hao

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30 Scopus citations


Microcoleus vaginatus Gom., the dominant species in biological soil crusts (BSCs) in desert regions, plays a significant role in maintaining the BSC structure and function. The BSC quality is commonly assessed by the chlorophyll a content, thickness, and compressive strength. Here, we have studied the effect of different proportions of M. vaginatus, collected from the Gurbantunggut Desert in northwestern China, on the BSC structure and function under laboratory conditions. We found that when M. vaginatus was absent in the BSC, the BSC coverage, quantified by the percentage of BSC area to total land surface area, was low with a chlorophyll a content of 4.77 × 10-2 mg g-1 dry soil, a thickness of 0.86 mm, and a compressive strength of 12.21 Pa. By increasing the percentage of M. vaginatus in the BSC, the BSC coverage, chlorophyll a content, crust thickness, and compressive strength all significantly increased (P < 0.01). The maximum chlorophyll a content (13.12 mg g-1dry soil), the highest crust thickness, and the compressive strength (1.48 mm and 36.60 Pa, respectively) occurred when the percentage of inoculated M. vaginatus reached 80% with a complex network of filaments under scanning electron microscope. The BSC quality indicated by the above variables, however, declined when the BSC was composed of pure M. vaginatus (monoculture). In addition, we found that secretion of filaments and polymer, which stick sands together in the BSC, increased remarkably with the increase of the dominant species until the percentage of M. vaginatus reached 80%. Our results suggest that not only the dominant species but also the accompanying taxa are critical for maintaining the structure and functions of the BSC and thus the stability of the BSC ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)473-480
Number of pages8
JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science


  • Biological soil crusts (BSCs)
  • Gurbantunggut Desert
  • Microcoleus vaginatus Gom.
  • Northwestern China


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