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Keywords:

  • biological soil crusts;
  • cyanobacteria;
  • desert;
  • soil aggregate;
  • wind erosion;
  • soil erosion

Abstract

Recently disturbed and ‘control’ (i.e. less recently disturbed) soils in the Mojave Desert were compared for their vulnerability to wind erosion, using a wind tunnel, before and after being experimentally trampled. Before trampling, control sites had greater cyanobacterial biomass, soil surface stability, threshold friction velocities (TFV; i.e. the wind speed required to move soil particles), and sediment yield than sites that had been more recently disturbed by military manoeuvres. After trampling, all sites showed a large drop in TFVs and a concomitant increase in sediment yield. Simple correlation analyses showed that the decline in TFVs and the rise in sediment yield were significantly related to cyanobacterial biomass (as indicated by soil chlorophyll a). However, chlorophyll a amounts were very low compared to chlorophyll a amounts found at cooler desert sites, where chlorophyll a is often the most important factor in determining TFV and sediment yield. Multiple regression analyses showed that other factors at Fort Irwin were more important than cyanobacterial biomass in determining the overall site susceptibility to wind erosion. These factors included soil texture (especially the fine, medium and coarse sand fractions), rock cover, and the inherent stability of the soil (as indicated by subsurface soil stability tests). Thus, our results indicate that there is a threshold of biomass below which cyanobacterial crusts are not the dominant factor in soil vulnerability to wind erosion. Most undisturbed soil surfaces in the Mojave Desert region produce very little sediment, but even moderate disturbance increases soil loss from these sites. Because current weathering rates and dust inputs are very low, soil formation rates are low as well. Therefore, soil loss in this region is likely to have long-term effects. Published in 2006 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.