Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Biological soil crusts (BSCs) are soil-surface microecosystems composed of a close association of algae, cyanobacteria, fungi, lichens, and non-vascular plants with soil particles. BSCs have several ecological functions including carbon fixation, nitrogen fixation, nutrient relations, soil stabilization, water relations, and floral community development, which make them extremely important in many of the ecosystems where they occur. While BSCs have been studied throughout the American West, little work has been done in the Great Plains region where they are less prominent among the dominant vascular plant communities. This study examined organismal composition and photosynthetic traits of BSCs in four ecosystems within the Great Plains—short grass, sand sage, southern mixed grass, and tall grass prairies. To document the BSCs, seasonal photosynthesis measurements were performed in the field and samples were collected for lab analysis. The BSCs primarily consisted of lichens, bryophytes, and cyanobacteria with lichens being dominant in all ecosystems and varying proportions of bryophytes and cyanobacteria. Bryophyte proportion tended to increase with wetter, cooler climates and cyanobacteria tended to increase with drier, warmer climates. Heterocystic (nitrogen-fixing), which contribute to soil nitrogen content, and non-heterocystic cyanobacteria were present in lichens at all sites. Photosynthesis rates varied between sites and seasons, ranging from 0.26 to 3.31 μmol CO2 m-2 s-1, and were generally correlated with precipitation and temperature. Results indicate that BSCs of these prairie ecosystems possess diverse communities and perform several important ecological functions.


Dr. Brian Maricle

Date of Award

Fall 2016

Document Type



© 2016 Brendon C. McCampbell


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