Pink Cacti Bloom in the middle of Biological Soil Crust – Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Its spring time, so I figured I needed to blog some blooms … but what’s even more important that the cacti in the picture is the blackened soil surrounding it.
From the National Park Service website:
“Biological soil crust is a living groundcover that forms the foundation of high desert plant life in Canyonlands and the surrounding area. This knobby, black crust is dominated by cyanobacteria, but also includes lichens, mosses, green algae, microfungi and bacteria.
Cyanobacteria, previously called blue-green algae, are one of the oldest known life forms. It is thought that these organisms were among the first land colonizers of the earth’s early land masses, and played an integral role in the formation and stabilization of the earth’s early soils. Extremely thick mats of these organisms converted the earth’s original carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere into one rich in oxygen and capable of sustaining life.
Soil crusts have other functions as well, including an ability to intercept and store water, nutrients and organic matter that might otherwise be unavailable to plants.
Unfortunately, many human activities negatively affect the presence and health of soil crusts. Compressional stresses placed on them by footprints or machinery are extremely harmful, especially when the crusts are dry and brittle. Tracks in continuous strips, such as those produced by vehicles or bicycles, create areas that are highly vulnerable to wind and water erosion. Rainfall carries away loose material, often creating channels along these tracks, especially on slopes.
Impacted areas may never fully recover. Under the best circumstances, a thin veneer of cryptobiotic soil may return in five to seven years. Damage done to the sheath material, and the accompanying loss of soil nutrients, is repaired slowly during up to 50 years of cyanobacterial growth. Lichens and mosses may take even longer to recover.”
So … when you at one of the national parks (especially out west) and notice this blackened crust, take care to stay on the marked trails and not step on it. Its essential for high desert life — not to mention showing respect for our preserved lands.