Biological Soil Crusts

Dinosaur's arid landscapes create an austere and beautiful scenery: low-lying plants allow for vistas that seem to go on forever and sparse vegetation reveals the form and color of the rocks. Although vegetation is sparse in this region, the floor of this high desert is rich with life.

Biological soil crust at Dinosaur National Monument.
Biological soil crust at Dinosaur National Monument.


Two examples of biological soil crust.
Two examples of biological soil crust near the Fossil Discovery Tral.


A Living Community
In the spaces between trees, shrubs, and grasses, a dark, bumpy surface covers much of the ground. This is a living community of tiny organisms--cyanobacteria, lichen, and mosses--and their by-products, all of which create a surface crust of soil particles bound together by organic materials.

Biological soil crusts--also known as cryptogamic, microbiotic, cryptobiotic, and microphytic crusts--are common in arid and semi-arid areas worldwide, and can be found in many parts of the western United States.

Benefits of Biological Soil Crusts
These highly specialized communities play several important ecological roles. They stabilize the soil, increasing resistance to wind and water erosion. They also help to increase water absorption, an important benefit in areas with little rainfall. Because they contribute organic matter and nitrogen to the soil, areas with healthy biological soil crusts show improved soil health.

Don't Bust the Crust!
Despite their important contributions to the health of desert soils, biological soil crusts are easy to overlook…and easy to damage. A single footprint can have long-lasting consequences: damaged crusts can take years, even decades, to recover. Learn to recognize biological soil crusts and do your part to help protect them.


Learn more about biological soil crusts.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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