Successful field cultivation of moss biocrusts on disturbed soil surfaces in the short term

Chongfeng Bu, Ruxue Li, Chun Wang, Matthew A. Bowker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Aims: The artificial cultivation of biocrusts may represent a new low-cost and highly efficient solution to erosion control. However, establishment under varying field environmental conditions is understudied. We tested a variety of methods, arriving at a set of technical recommendations for rapid establishment of moss biocrusts on disturbed slopes, and the industrialization of this process. Methods: In multiple field experiments, aimed at moss biocrust cultivation and establishment, we considered the following factors: nutrient solutions (control and weekly addition); water-retaining agent (control and addition); plant growth regulator (control and biweekly addition); shading (0, 50%, 70% and 90%); dispersal method (broadcast and spray application). In all cases, we initially inoculated soils with 700 g/m2 of moss biocrust materials. We monitored dynamic changes of the coverage and density of moss biocrusts during the cultivation period, and their biomass at the end. Results: We successfully cultured moss biocrusts in a field setting in as little as two months. Specifically, we found:(1) Regardless of the dispersal method, the nutrient solutions and some degree of shading both increased the coverage, plant density and biomass of moss biocrusts, whereas the water-retaining agent and plant growth regulator had little influence on these parameters. The shading treatments improved the survival rates of moss biocrusts, with the shade rating of 70% exhibiting the best performance. Further, the nutrient solutions had a more positive effect under shaded conditions. (2) The growth of mosses dispersed in the fall exceeded that of mosses dispersed in the summer. (3) Under both dispersal techniques, the maximal coverage of the moss biocrusts exceeded 90%, and the maximal plant density of moss biocrusts reached 120 stems/cm2under broadcast dispersal, and 150 stems/cm2, under spray dispersal. Conclusions: The rapid restoration of moss biocrusts can best be achieved by spray-dispersal or broadcast-dispersal, while also applying Hoagland solution to supply nutrients and maintaining soil moisture at 15–25%. Fall inoculation appears more likely to lead to better moss establishment, in fact, high moss mortality occurred in summer unless shading was used. We have some evidence, observational in fall, and experimental in summer, that moderate shading favors establishment. This technique could feasibly be up scaled and adopted to restore some ecological functions on various types of engineered disturbed surfaces. Over a longer period, the survivorship, succession and sustainability of artificial moss biocrusts should be explored specifically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-240
Number of pages14
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018


  • Ecological restoration
  • Moss biocrusts
  • Nutrient solution
  • Shading rating
  • Soil surface damaged by engineering activities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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