Natural colonization and active inoculation of disturbed soils with biological soil crusts in northern Canada

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Katherine Stewart

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Examining natural colonization of biological soil crusts (BSCs) on arctic, alpine and boreal soils of northern Canada, following glacial retreat and anthropogenic disturbances can inform active restoration. Biological soil crusts are early soil surface communities composed of bryophytes, lichens, bacteria, cyanobacteria and fungi. Their ubiquitous distribution, ability to survive harsh conditions and influence on soil and plant community development make them important for restoration. Longterm changes (~70 years) in BSC community composition and function across an alpine glacial foreland were evident based on metagenomics sequencing of the BSC community and measures of in-situ and optimal carbon and nitrogen fixation. Over the short-term (<30 years) BSC macrophyla (bryophytes and lichens) richness appeared to remain relatively constant in both a northern boreal and a low-arctic tundra landscape disturbed by mining activities, however, changes in species composition were evident. Fungal communities demonstrated the strongest changes in richness and composition in these recently disturbed landscapes. These shifts in the BSC community were linked with changes in nitrogen fixation, photosynthesis and organic carbon. Active inoculation of BSCs in growth chamber and field studies further identified changes in community development, composition and function driven by moisture and fertilization. Moisture promotes increased community development, especially of bryophytes, accompanied by higher normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) values and higher rates of photosynthesis. Fertilization also promotes increased BSC cover and NDVI and increased organic carbon in soils directly underlying BSCs. Providing conditions that promote key BSC species and functions, identified through observing natural colonization, is essential for effective restoration.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program