Establishing rates of lateral expansion of cyanobacterial biological soil crusts for optimal restoration

Kira Sorochkina, Sergio Velasco Ayuso, Ferran Garcia-Pichel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Aims: Biocrusts that form on topsoils contribute ecosystem services to drylands, and their loss under anthropogenic pressure has negative ecological consequences. Therefore, development of biocrust inoculation technology for restoration is of interest. This requires knowledge of biocrust growth and dispersal. To contribute to this, we determined the speed at which biocrusts expand laterally based on the self-propelled motility of cyanobacteria. Methodology: We inoculated sterile soil with natural biocrusts and incubated them over a year in a greenhouse under conditions mimicking local precipitation, monitoring the crust’s lateral expansion using time-course photography, chlorophyll a content, and microscopic inspection. Concurrent uninoculated controls served to monitor, and discount, natural inoculation by aeolian propagules. Results: While the expansion front was highly variable in space, biocrusts expanded in the order of 2 cm month−1, but only in seasons with moderate temperatures (Spring and Fall). Microcoleus vaginatus, Microcoleus steenstrupii, and Scytonema spp. advanced at averages of 1 cm month−1, the crust advance front being preferentially driven by specialized propagules (hormogonia). These rates are within expectations based on instantaneous gliding motility speeds of cyanobacteria. Conclusions: Based on the expansion capability of biocrusts during growth seasons, greenhouse inoculum units can be optimally spaced to fill 4–8 cm gaps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-211
Number of pages13
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018


  • Biological soil crust
  • Chlorophyll a
  • Filamentous cyanobacteria
  • Lateral dispersal
  • Soil restoration
  • Sonoran Desert

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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