Insolation and disturbance history drive biocrust biodiversity in Western Montana rangelands

Rebecca A. Durham, Kyle D. Doherty, Anita J. Antoninka, Philip W. Ramsey, Matthew A. Bowker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background and Aims: Biological soil crust (biocrust) communities, though common and important in the intermountain west, have received little research attention. There are gaps in understanding what influences biocrust species’ abundance and distributions in this ecoregion. Climatic, edaphic, topographic, and biotic forces, in addition to anthropogenic disturbance can all influence the biocrust. Methods: We determined the relative influence of several possible environmental filters in biocrust communities of western Montana (USA) grasslands at two spatial scales. The larger scale exploited strong topographically-dictated climatic variation across >60km2, while the smaller scale focused on differences among distinct microsites within ~700m2 plots. Results: We detected a total of 96 biocrust taxa, mostly lichens. Biocrust richness at each site ranged from 0 to 39 species, averaging 14 species. Insolation, aspect, and disturbance history were the strongest predictors of biocrust richness, abundance, and species turnover across the landscape; soil texture was influential for some biocrust community properties. Steep, north-facing slopes that receive longer periods of shade harbored higher diversity and cover of biocrust than south-facing sites. At a small scale, interspaces among native herbaceous communities supported the greatest diversity of biocrust species, but microsites under shrub canopies supported the greatest cover. Conclusions: We found that, among the variables investigated, tillage, insolation, soil texture and the associated vegetation community were the most important drivers of biocrust abundance and species richness. This study can inform the practice of restoration and conservation, and also guide future work to improve predictions of biocrust properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-169
Number of pages19
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Biocrust
  • Bryophytes
  • Community analysis
  • Lichens
  • Montana
  • Terricolous

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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