Biocrust moss populations differ in growth rates, stress response, and microbial associates

Kyle D. Doherty, Matthew A. Bowker, Anita J. Antoninka, Nancy C. Johnson, Troy E. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Aims: A growing body of research supports the feasibility of biocrust rehabilitation. Identifying populations of key species that are amenable to cultivation and that are resilient in rehabilitation contexts would advance the efficacy of these technologies. Here we investigate the growth and stress response of the cosmopolitan biocrust moss, Syntrichia ruralis. Methods: We sampled populations of S. ruralis along a precipitation seasonality gradient from the Colorado Plateau ecoregion of the western United States. We cultivated these populations in an experiment manipulating duration of hydration periods on a weekly cycle. We then treated greenhouse grown materials with brief, stressful watering events, measuring how many events they could survive. Results: All populations grew at an accelerated rate compared to growth in a natural setting, at least doubling biomass in five months. Increasing duration of hydration periods led to more growth in all but one population. Volunteer biocrust algae and cyanobacteria developed during cultivation, and differed among populations. Greenhouse grown mosses differed in their response to stressful watering, with the most susceptible populations dying at half the number events compared to the most tolerant. Conclusions: These findings argue for informed selection and deployment of Syntrichia ruralis populations for soil rehabilitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-198
Number of pages12
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018


  • Biocrust
  • Bryophyte
  • Moss
  • Rehabilitation
  • Restoration
  • Syntrichia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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