Biocrusts protect the Great Wall of China from erosion

Yousong Cao, Matthew A. Bowker, Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, Bo Xiao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The Great Wall of China, one of the most emblematic and historical structures built by humankind throughout all of history, is suffering from rain and wind erosion and is largely colonized by biocrusts. However, how biocrusts influence the conservation and longevity of this structure is virtually unknown. Here, we conducted an extensive biocrust survey across the Great Wall and found that biocrusts cover 67% of the studied sections. Biocrusts enhance the mechanical stability and reduce the erodibility of the Great Wall. Compared with bare rammed earth, the biocrust-covered sections exhibited reduced porosity, water-holding capacity, erodibility, and salinity by 2 to 48%, while increasing compressive strength, penetration resistance, shear strength, and aggregate stability by 37 to 321%. We further found that the protective function of biocrusts mainly depended on biocrust features, climatic conditions, and structure types. Our work highlights the fundamental importance of biocrusts as a nature-based intervention to the conservation of the Great Wall, protecting this monumental heritage from erosion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereadk5892
JournalScience Advances
Issue number49
StatePublished - Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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