Disturbance of the biological soil crusts and performance of Stipa tenacissima in a semi-arid Mediterranean steppe

Jordi Cortina*, Noelia Martín, Fernando T. Maestre, Susana Bautista

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Biological soil crusts (BSC) play a major role in water and nutrient fluxes in semi-arid and arid areas, affecting the establishment of vascular plants and contributing to the spatial arrangement of vegetated and open areas. However, little is known regarding their effects on the performance of extant vegetation. By using experimental manipulations (surface soil cutting and herbiciding), we evaluated the effect of the physical structure and the biotic component of smooth biological soil crusts on soil moisture dynamics, and on the nutrient and water status, growth rate, and reproductive effort of Stipa tenacissima tussocks in a semi-arid steppe. Soil moisture content was weakly reduced after cutting the soil surface and was not affected by herbicide application. Cutting and herbiciding the biological soil crust had no effect on most morpho-functional and reproductive traits measured in S. tenacissima tussocks. The integrated water use efficiency of this species, as measured by 13C natural enrichment, decreased when the biotic community of biological soil crusts was killed with herbicide. In the S. tenacissima steppe studied, killing the BSC and breaking the continuity of the structural crust had a weak effect on the short-term performance of this species, but our results suggest that BSC exert a control on slope hydrology beyond that provided by physical soil crusts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-322
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


  • Cyanobacteria
  • Disturbance
  • Runoff
  • Soil moisture
  • Source-sink dynamics
  • Spatial heterogeneity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Plant Science


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