Biological soil crust communities, the soil skin of arid lands, provide important ecosystem services, particularly regarding soil fertility and stability against erosion. In North America, and in many other areas of the globe, increasingly intense human activities, ranging from cattle grazing to military training, have resulted in the significant deterioration of biological soil surface cover of soils. With the intent of attaining sustainable land use practices, we are conducting a 5-year, multi-institutional research effort to develop feasible soil crust restoration strategies for US military lands. We are including field sites of varying climatic regions (warm and cold deserts, in the Chihuahuan Desert and in the Great Basin, respectively) and varying edaphic characteristics (sandy and silty soils in each).
To enable this effort, we have successfully established “biocrust nurseries” that produce viable and pedigreed inoculum, as a supply center for biocrust restoration, and for research and development. We report on significant advances made on optimizing methodologies for the large-scale supply of inoculum based on a) pedigreed laboratory cultures that match the microbial community structure of the original sites, and b) “in soil” biomass enhancement, whereby small amounts of local crusts are nursed under greenhouse conditions to yield hundred-fold increases in biomass without altering significantly community structure. We will also briefly report on current field trials using both types of inoculum.