17 Jan 2022
17 Jan 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Pioneer biocrust communities prevent soil erosion in temperate forests after disturbances

Corinna Gall1, Martin Nebel2, Dietmar Quandt2, Thomas Scholten1, and Steffen Seitz1 Corinna Gall et al.
  • 1Soil Science and Geomorphology, Department of Geosciences, University of Tübingen, Rümelinstr. 19-23, 72070 Tübingen, Germany
  • 2Nees-Institute for Biodiversity of Plants, University of Bonn, Meckenheimer Allee 170, 53115 Bonn, Germany

Abstract. Soil erosion continues to be one of the most serious environmental problems of our time, which is exacerbated by progressive climate change. Until now, forests have been considered an ideal erosion control in this regard. However, even minor disturbances of the forest floor for example from heavy vehicle used for timber harvesting can cause substantial sediment transport. An important countermeasure is the quick restoration of the uncovered soil surface by vegetation. In this context, biological soil crusts (biocrusts) can play a vital role, as they are known for their soil-protective effect. This study examined the natural succession of pioneer vegetation in skid trails on four soil substrates in a central European temperate forest and investigated their influence on surface runoff and sediment discharge. We applied rainfall simulation experiments on small-scale runoff plots and continuously surveyed vegetation during the same period, primarily to map biocrust development.

Skid trails on clayey substrates showed considerably higher biocrust cover and species richness. Biocrust cover was higher in center tracks than in wheel tracks, while there was no clear difference for biocrust species richness with regard to track position. Although biocrusts were quickly overtopped by vascular plants, they managed to coexist until their growth was restricted due to leaf litter fall. Brachythecium rutabulum and Oxyrrhynchium hians were the most important and persistent pioneer biocrust species, while Dicranella schreberiana and Pohlia lutescens were volatile and quickly disappeared after spreading in summer. Soil erosion was reduced with pioneer biocrust vegetation in summer, and again increased in winter. Total amount of sediment discharge was clearly site-dependent, indicating a high relevance of underlying substrates. Sediment discharge was 13.2 times higher in wheel tracks compared to undisturbed forest soil, and bare soil runoff plots produced 22-fold sediment discharge compared to undisturbed forest soil. Overall, bryophyte-dominated biocrusts contributed more to mitigating soil erosion than vascular plants. When soil coverage exceeded 50 %, biocrusts resulted in an average of 18 times less sediment loss compared to vascular plants.

Corinna Gall et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • CC1: 'Comment on bg-2021-343', Georgios Kazanidis, 09 Feb 2022
    • AC1: 'Reply on CC1', Corinna Gall, 10 Feb 2022
      • CC2: 'Reply on AC1', Georgios Kazanidis, 10 Feb 2022
        • AC3: 'Reply on CC2', Corinna Gall, 12 Apr 2022
  • RC1: 'Comment on bg-2021-343', Bettina Weber, 14 Mar 2022
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC1', Corinna Gall, 18 Mar 2022
    • AC4: 'Reply on RC1', Corinna Gall, 12 May 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on bg-2021-343', Anonymous Referee #2, 12 Apr 2022
    • AC5: 'Reply on RC2', Corinna Gall, 12 May 2022
  • RC3: 'Comment on bg-2021-343', Anonymous Referee #3, 25 Apr 2022
    • AC6: 'Reply on RC3', Corinna Gall, 12 May 2022

Corinna Gall et al.

Corinna Gall et al.


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Short summary
Soil erosion is one of the most serious environmental challenges of our time, which also applies to forests when forest soil is disturbed. Biological soil crusts (biocrusts) can play a key role as erosion control in this context. In this study, we combined soil erosion measurements with pioneer vegetation surveys in disturbed forest areas. We found that soil erosion was reduced by pioneer biocrust vegetation and that biocrusts contributed more to soil erosion mitigation than vascular plants.