- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2016

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) - In a greenhouse at Northern Arizona University, a professor is researching an oft-overlooked ecological field that could play an important role in preventing erosion and helping plants grow.

Soil ecologist Matthew Bowker is growing mosses, lichens and cyanobacteria that make up protective biological soil crusts found on the Colorado Plateau, the Arizona Daily Sun reported (https://bit.ly/2h2y7nT).

People and climate change can threaten the survival of biocrust. The degradation of biocrust weakens the fertility of soil and allows invasive plants and erosion to flourish.

It took eight weeks for Bowker and his team to grow a spoonful of biocrust into enough to spread across an 8-inch diameter circle, much faster than natural restoration that can last anywhere from years to centuries. They have transplanted crusts in New Mexico, Montana and Utah.

Bowker said results have been mixed, with some success in Utah but nothing encouraging in New Mexico so far. It’s too early to tell how well the Montana samples are doing, he said.

The researchers plan to go bigger in future. “It’s only going to be super useful if you can do it big,” Bowker said.

U.S. Geological Survey ecologists Colin Tucker and Sasha Reed are also growing biocrust at the university’s greenhouse. These samples will be transplanted in a study examining how climate change will affect the survival of species.

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Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, https://www.azdailysun.com/


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