RESOURCES: Soil Saviors

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Science  25 Aug 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5790, pp. 1023
DOI: 10.1126/science.313.5790.1023d

In dry ecosystems where plants are scarce, organisms such as cyanobacteria, mosses, and lichens keep the soil from blowing and washing away. These dirt-dwellers and the chemicals they release harden the surface, forming so-called biological soil crusts. Learn more about the crucial layer at this primer from the U.S. Geological Survey's Canyonlands Research Station in Moab, Utah. Get the basics at Crusts 101, which introduces the cast of organisms and explains the layer's ecological importance. Crusts not only provide stability, for instance, but they can increase the amount of water that percolates into the soil. Readers hungry for more can download a 90-page textbook. The gallery shows landscapes that boast healthy crust and examples of the severe erosion that ensues when livestock or vehicles crush the delicate surface.

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