Question: Biological soil crusts (BSCs) exist in arid and semi-arid ecosystems worldwide, and their recovery following the removal of a disturbance agent is integral to the rehabilitation of degraded landscapes. We asked: what is the likelihood of success and time frame of BSC recovery in vegetation remnants of southeast Australia, following livestock exclusion by fencing.
Location: Dryland agricultural region of northwest Victoria, Australia.
Methods: We conducted a “space for time” study of BSC recovery across 21 sites where livestock have been excluded by fencing between 1 and >50 years ago, and used boosted regression tree models to explore the response of BSCs to livestock exclusion while controlling for the influence of environmental variables on BSC abundance.
Results: Our results show a relatively rapid, passive recovery of BSCs following livestock exclusion, with cover stabilizing after 20 years. Sites heavily disturbed by livestock grazing at the time of fencing stabilized at a lower cover. In contrast to studies from other countries, our results suggest mosses, not cyanobacteria, are the important colonizers in our study region.
Conclusions: Ecosystem function in degraded remnants of southern Australia can be improved in a relatively short time frame through passive recovery alone. This knowledge will benefit land managers choosing between restoration options in disturbed and fragmented arid-landscapes.