Biocrusts for reclamation of ecosystems


Photosynthetic characteristics and their spatial variance on biological soil crusts covering initial soils of post-mining sites in Lower Lusatia, NE Germany

Following surface disturbance, quaternary sands are the basic substrate for soil development in the Lusatian reclamation area. These substrates mostly contain low organic matter and, hence, are nutrient poor. Accumulation of soil carbon is an important factor for ecosystem development, where biological soil crusts initially influence soil processes and promote ecosystem succession. The compositional structures of biological soil crusts at various developmental stages and their photosynthetic properties were investigated on two former open-cast lignite sites, currently under reclamation, an artificial sand dune in Welzow Süd, and a forest plantation in Schlabendorf Süd (Brandenburg, Germany). As development of biological soil crusts progressed, their contents of organic carbon and total chlorophyll increased. The ratio of these parameters, however, varied with the relative contribution of lichens and mosses in particular. Also maximum photochemical efficiency, net photosynthesis and respiration increased with crustal development. An additional evaluation of NDVI and chlorophyll fluorescence images showed that especially moss-dominated biocrusts had higher photosynthetic capacity compared to green algae-dominated biocrusts or soil lichens, so the photosynthetic capacity showed to be highly species-specific. The ratio of gross photosynthesis to respiration indicated a higher ecological efficiency of biocrusts dominated by green algae than of biocrusts. The occurrence of soil lichens reduced net CO2 fixation and increased CO2 release due to the enhanced mycobiontic respiration. During crustal succession, the rise of photosynthesis-related parameters is not necessarily linear as a result of the highly heterogenic distribution of the different crustal organisms between biocrusts of similar developmental stages as well as between those growing at the two study sites. Therefore, the evaluation of relevant ecophysiological parameters highlighted that not all biocrust-forming organisms similarly contribute to the ecophysiological behavior of biological soil crusts. Nevertheless, the occurrence of the biological soil crusts promoted soil formation and accumulation of soil carbon in initial soils.

Gypser, S, Herppich, W.B., Fischer, T., Lange, P., Veste, M. (2016): Photosynthetic characteristics and their spatial variance on biological soil crusts covering initial soils of post-mining sites in Lower Lusatia, NE Germany. Flora 220: 103-116. (read the paper…)

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Formation of soil lichen crusts at reclaimed post-mining sites, Lower Lusatia, North-east Germany


Biological soil crusts were investigated at reclaimed post-mining sites near Welzow and Schlabendorf in Lower Lusatia (Brandenburg, Germany). Various development stages from initial biological soil crusts built up by green algae, to more developed soil crusts with mosses, as well as moss-soil lichen crusts, were classified. The spatial-temporal dynamics during the development resulted in a moss-lichens cover with discrete patches of pioneer organisms like green algae in between. At the study sites, 13 species of terricolous lichens were identified. The formation of the biological soil crust is important for the accumulation of soil organic matter in the first millimeters of the topsoil of these pioneer ecosystems. A correlation between cryptogamic biomass and soil carbon content were found.

Gypser, S., Veste, M., Fischer, T., Lange, P., Graphis Scripta, 2015 (read the paper...)


Biocrust (2)


Infiltration and water retention of biological soil crusts on reclaimed soils of former open-cast lignite mining sites in Brandenburg, north-east Germany


Investigations were done on two former open-cast lignite mining sites under reclamation, an artificial sand dune in Welzow Süd, and a forest plantation in Schlabendorf Süd (Brandenburg, Germany). The aim was to associate the topsoil hydrological characteristics of green algae dominated as well as moss and soil lichen dominated biological soil crusts during crustal succession with their water retention and the repellency index on sandy soils under temperate climate and different reliefs. The investigation of the repellency index showed on the one hand an increase due to the cross-linking of sand particles by green algae which resulted in clogging of pores. On the other hand, the occurrence of moss plants led to a decrease of the repellency index due to absorption caused by bryophytes. The determination of the water retention curves showed an increase of the water holding capacity, especially in conjunction with the growth of green algae layer. The pore-related van Genuchten parameter indicates a clay-like behaviour of the developed soil crusts. Because of the inhomogeneous distribution of lichens and mosses as well as the varying thickness of green algae layers, the water retention differed between the study sites and between samples of similar developmental stages. However, similar tendencies of water retention and water repellency related to the soil crust formation were observed. Biological soil crusts should be attended after disturbances in the context of reclamation measures, because of their small-scale succession and, hence, the promotion of soil and ecosystem development.


Gypser, S., Veste, M., Fischer, T., Lange, P.  (2016): Infiltration and water retention of biological soil crusts on reclaimed soils of former open-cast lignite mining sites in Brandenburg, north-east Germany. Journal of Hydrology and Hydromechanics 64 (1): 1-11. (read the paper…)

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Synergic hydraulic and nutritional feedback mechanisms control surface patchiness of biological soil crusts on tertiary sands at a post-mining site 


In a recultivation area located in Brandenburg, Germany, five types of biocrusts (initial BSC1, developed BSC2 and BSC3, mosses, lichens) and non-crusted mineral substrate were sampled on tertiary sand deposited in 1985 – 1986 to investigate hydrologic interactions between crust patches. Crust biomass was lowest in the non-crusted substrate, increased to the initial BSC1 and peaked in the developed BSC2, BSC3, the lichens and the mosses. Water infiltration was highest on the substrate, and decreased to BSC2, BSC1 and BSC3. Non-metric multidimensional scaling revealed that the lichens and BSC3 were associated with water soluble nutrients and with pyrite weathering products, thus representing a high nutrient low hydraulic feedback mode. The mosses and BSC2 represented a low nutrient high hydraulic feedback mode. These feedback mechanisms were considered as synergic, consisting of run-off generating (low hydraulic) and run-on receiving  (high hydraulic) BSC patches. Three scenarios for BSC succession were proposed. (1) Initial BSCs sealed the surface until they reached a successional stage (represented by BSC1) from which the development into either of the feedback modes was triggered, (2) initial heterogeneities of the mineral substrate controlled the development of the feedback mode, and (3) complex interactions between lichens and mosses occurred at later stages of system development. 

Fischer, T., Gypser, S., Subbotina, M., Veste, M., Journal of Hydrology and Hydromechanics, 2014 (read the paper…)


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Biological soil lichens crusts in a recultivation area located in Brandenburg, Germany


Organic matter from biological soil crusts induces the initial formation of sandy temperate soils


Different development stages of algae-dominated and moss-dominated biological soil crusts (BSCs) were sampled on a natural sand dune (< 17 years old) and on an experimental sand dune (< 8 years old) along a catena, including gradients of vegetation cover, location on the slope, as well as composition and thickness of BSC organisms in northeastern Germany. The accumulation of BSC-derived organic carbon (OC) was determined for bulk materials and fractions less than 63 μm. The OC composition was characterized by solid-state 13C NMR spectroscopy and the carbohydrate-C signature. 14C contents were determined to assess the origin and dynamics of OC. From the radiocarbon contents, two OC pools were differentiated: recent BSC-derived and lignite-derived “old” OC. Downward movement of OC into the underlying substrate was found only under moss-dominated BSCs at the old sand dune. BSC-derived OC was mainly composed of carbohydrate-C and, to a lesser extent, alkyl C and N-alkyl C, with considerably higher contributions of alkyl C in the young dune, indicating differences in the composition of extracellular polymeric substances produced by the BSCs with age. This is consistent with higher proportions of water-soluble OC of moss-dominated BSCs at the old dune, which is leached in the underlying substrate and initiates soil formation. Because of the channeling effect of mosses, OC depth translocation along with suspended colloidal substances may contribute to OC accumulation in substrates.

Dümig, A., Veste, M., Hagedorn, F., Fischer, T., Lange, P., Spröte, R., Kögel-Knabner, I., Catena 122, 196–208, 2014 (more..)

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Biological soil crusts on an artificial sand dune in the post-mining area of Welzow


Biological topsoil crusts at early successional stages on Quaternary substrates dumped by mining in Brandenburg, NE Germany


The influence of biological soil crusts in natural ecosystems on structures and processes is well investigated. However, in South-Brandenburg (Germany), it is possible to study the development of biological soil crusts (BSC) during initial ecosystem genesis on two artificial water catchments with well-known ages and under differing starting conditions. The two experimental sites are located in the recultivation area of the lignite open-cast mining district of southern Brandenburg with a distance of approximately 1 km between them. Two different topographies were constructed at the experimental sites: the experimental plot at the catchment Neuer Lugteich was shaped like a dune, whereas the artificial water catchment Hühnerwasser was modelled as an inclined slope. The catchment Neuer Lugteich is four years older than Hühnerwasser. The original substrate at Neuer Lugteich is more sandy and carbonate-free compared to the original substrate dumped at Hühnerwasser. At both sites geomorphological differentiation and crust development were compared and the importance of substrate-dependent water availability and crust type clarified. Once settled, the crusts influenced the water regime of the soils by delaying infiltration through enhanced water repellency, and by limiting water infiltration. Chlorophyll analysis revealed that all crusts were at early stages of development. At Neuer Lugteich, the establishment of the biological soil crusts was closely associated with the vegetation succession, whereas no clear succession of the crusts could be observed at Hühnerwasser. The mosaic-like pattern of the biological soils crusts is associated with the distribution of fine-grained material here.

Spröte, R.,Fischer, T., Veste, M., Raab, T., Wiehe, W., Lange, P., Bens, O., Hüttl, R.F., Géomorphologie: relief, processus, environnement 4/2010: 359-370. (more…)

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Biological soil crusts on an artificial sand dune in the post-mining area of Welzow


Initial pedogenesis in a topsoil crust 3 years after construction of an artificial catchment in Brandenburg, NE Germany


Cyanobacteria and green algae present in biological soil crusts are able to colonize mineral substrates even under extreme environmental conditions. As pioneer organisms, they play a key role during the first phases of habitat colonization. A characteristic crust was sampled 3 years after installation of the artificial water catchment “Chicken creek”, thus representing an early successional stage of ecosystem development. Mean annual rainfall and temperature were 559 mm and 9.3°C, respectively. We combined scanning electron microscopy (SEM/EDX) and infrared (FTIR) microscopy to study the contact zone of algal and cyanobacterial mucilage with soil minerals in an undisturbed biological soil crust and in the subjacent sandy substrate. The crust was characterized by an approximately 50 μm thick surface layer, where microorganisms resided and where mineral deposition was trapped, and by an approximately 2.5 mm thick lower crust where mineral particles were stabilized by organo-mineral structures. SEM/EDX microscopy was used to determine the spatial distribution of elements, organic compounds and minerals were identified using FTIR microscopy and X-ray diffraction (XRD). The concentration of organic carbon in the crust was about twice as much as in the parent material. Depletion of Fe, Al and Mn in the lower crust and in the subjacent 5 mm compared to the geological substrate was observed. This could be interpreted as the initial phase of podzolization. Existence of bridging structures between mineral particles of the lower crust, containing phyllosilicates, Fe compounds and organic matter (OM), may indicate the formation of organo-mineral associations. pH decreased from 8.1 in the original substrate to 5.1 on the crust surface 3 years after construction, pointing to rapid weathering of carbonates. Weathering of silicates could not be detected.

Fischer, T., Veste, M., Schaaf, W., Bens, O., Dümig, A., Kögel-Knabner, I, Wiehe, W.,  Hüttl, R.F., Biogeochemistry 101, 165-176, 2010. (more…)

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Biocrust development after 3 years on an artificial watershed in Brandenburg, Germany


Development of biological soil crusts in initial ecosystems in Lusatia, Germany


During initial ecosystem development vegetation cover is sparse, but the space between shrubs is not bare and is often covered by a topsoil biological crust composed by cyanobacteria, green algae, mosses and lichens. These cryptogames are the first colonizer of initial ecosystems. The development of soil surface crusts plays a major role for the further vegetation pattern and ecosystem development through changes to the physico-chemical conditions and influencing various ecosystem processes. 

 We studied the development of biological soil crusts on quaternary substrate of the initial artificial water catchment ´Neuer Lugteich’ located in the former open-cast lignite mining area near Welzow (Brandenburg, Germany). Chlorophyll, Corg, pH were determined to classified various soil crusts types. Some of these cryptogames excrete exopolysaccharides that bind the inorganic fine-grained particles that form the matrix of the topsoil crust. Due to lack of organic matter in the geological substrate, photoautotrophic organisms like green algae and cyanobacteria are important for soil organic matter accumulation in first millimetre of topsoil of initial ecosystems. The biological soil crusts decrease infiltration rates and influence the hydrological conditions.

Spröte, R., Veste, M., Fischer, T. Lange, P., Bens, O., Raab, T., Hüttl, R.F., Berichte der Deutschen Bodenkundlichen Gesellschaft. DBG., 2009. (more…)

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Biological soil crust on artificial sand dune


The Green Great Wall - Combating Desertification in China


Desertification of drylands is a global problem in both developed and developing countries. Desertification affects human life on many levels. China is one of the seriously affected countries with vast areas of desertification. Dust and sand storms are threats for drylands as well as for megacities. Dust is transported over vast distances. During the past decades major measures to combat desertification were established in the northern provinces. Those include vegetation shelterbelts and reforestation of desertified lands to reduce soil erosion and to stabilize sand dunes.

Veste, M., Gao, J., Sun, B., Breckle, S.-W., Geographische Rundschau Internationale Edition 2 (3), 14-20, 2006 (more…)

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Development of biocrusts on desert sand dunes, Inner Mongolia, China

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