A networking resource devoted to biological soil crusts and the researchers who study them. We will provide a means for international scientists to communicate, share their research, share important news and announcements, ask questions and find collaborators. We will also provide a space for informal writing on research, opinion, and ideas (now seeking posters!).

Friday, July 25, 2014

Biocrusts in El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico

It's that time again…photo dumps from trips taken months ago! Last Spring I joined my graduate student Jesse, and two collaborators from the National Park Service on a trip to El Malpais in New Mexico.  Jesse is working on establishing an array of monitoring plots for "unique plant communities" which are important reservoirs of biodiversity in the National Park System. 

El Malpais is a National Monument built around a series of lava flows. One cool thing about it is that the lava flows left islands of pre-existing soils. Because much of the lava is a'a, its is very difficult to traverse. The Monument resource manager, David Hayes told us there were 2 kinds of people who work at the Monument: 1. those who have hurt themselves on the lava, 2. those that will hurt themselves on the lava. This works for cows too, so the islands or "kipukas" have experienced much less disturbance historically. So in addition to selecting unique plant communities to sample, I was very intrigued to see what the biocrusts looked like in the kipukas. I had envisioned some kind of sandy soils with grasslands or woodlands. Instead, the soils were derived of older basalt, and sure enough there were plenty of biocrusts. There are a ton of places, especially in the Great Basin and Colombia Basin where basalt soils support biocrusts. But for some reason, despite much looking, I have never seen biocrusts on basalt soils on the Colorado Plateau…until El Malpais. From that moment on, I was hopelessly fascinated to see more soils. In addition to lava of different ages, there are sedimentary rocks which develop into very different soils with very different communities. Very cool place.

Maybe the coolest thing I learned was from Jesse. A Navajo story recounts the monster killing exploits of the hero twins. One of the monsters they killed was walking giant. The lava flows are the blood of walking giant. 

Appears to be a Leptogium, anyone able to ID from the picture?

Collema tenax and a Placidium species growing together as they often do.

Collema coccophorum; note the slightly reddish disks are apothecia.

A Psora species, probably globifera.

The lava flows are riddled with lava tubes. When lava is flowing the exterior may begin to harden, while the center is still liquid and able to drain out leaving tubes.

Inside a tube!

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