RESOURCES: Crust of Life

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Science  27 Oct 2000:
Vol. 290, Issue 5492, pp. 667
DOI: 10.1126/science.290.5492.667a

Anyone who's made a mind-numbing drive across Wyoming or Mongolia probably thinks of rangelands as barren places. But looks can be deceiving. The first few inches of soil in such stark landscapes actually harbor a teeming ecological community of lichens, mosses, fungi, bacteria, worms, and arthropods, among other organisms.

Scientists have only recently recognized the importance of these so-called biological crusts, which occur in arid and semiarid regions from Israel to Antarctica. Among other roles, they add carbon to soils, fix nitrogen for plants, hold soil in place, and keep out invading weeds. Learn more about soil ecology at two Web sites from the U.S. Department of the Interior. A 10-page popular introduction describes “the unsung, unheralded and unrecognized heroes of the rangeland ecosystem”—from bacteria that build soils to insects that aerate the soil. Another site offers similar information, but in greater depth: Scientists and land managers can download a 40-page technical reference with background and management tips—on how fires affect crust species, for example—or browse a list of 3000 references.

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