Monday, June 18, 2012

Biological Soil Crusts: Boreal & Temperate Forests ????

Biological Soil Crusts on a Granite Rock Slab
For the record, this is a continuation of the first article I wrote on Biological soil Crust which dealt with the strictly conventional view of Bio-Crusts by those who have a career in studying them. But the reason for this post is mainly because most people in this world find Deserts boring and of little worth, so describing the incredible unseen microbial world there can be better appreciated through the eyes looking at an environment like forests. These organisms are basically the same kind of family group. It's just that in a Boreal forest with all their obvious colour and sparkle, people pay closer attention. That is the reason for furthering the subject with this post. So here was my first post on Biological soil crusts:
I was out walking through the woodlands with my wife just recently and observed something normally considered only a desert phenomena, yet there it was behind my house. Biological Soil Crusts in a Boreal Forest setting ? Hey, how about a Temperate Forest setting ? Most of the literature and folks who study these amazing natural wonders generally don't even come here with their work and the question has to be asked - Why Not ? It's usually considered a sort of Drylands Desert Thingy!!! But cannot those same biological components above in the photo on those granite rock slabs also be considered biological soil crusts in the forest floor ecosystem setting like the one behind my house here in Sweden ?

Let's see now, Biological Soil Crustal mechanisms by their very definition from are officially cataloged as  "Major components are cyanobacteria, green algae, microfungi, mosses, liverworts and lichens." Well that would classify my backyard as a typical Biological Soil Crust Habitat , wouldn't it not ? But wait a minute, there's more to that definition, take a look:
"Biological soil crusts are the community of organisms living at the surface of desert soils."

Woah, wait a minute, back up the Science Train for a moment. Why doesn't my "cyanobacteria, green algae, microfungi, mosses, liverworts and lichens" in my backyard qualify as official Biological Soil Crust ? Well I'm assuming it's because by the officially approved Panel of Peers definition such a plant community can ONLY be found in Desert Drylands. Yeeeaah and all Ferns only grow in moist lush Tropical, Temperate or Boreal Forests ONLY! Hey I didn't just fall off the Crust Truck you know. I appreciate and naturally so do many others who know me that I am not exactly your basic conventional Science Dude.

I have a habit of actually watching and observing nature and with practical applications on those observations, I tend to toss out the Ideological Assertions, Assumptions and Speculations for the FACTS as I observe them with my own eyes. I am also burned out with the way conventional science -based wisdom infected with various ideological philosophies has ruined our planet. So over the years I tend to be a healthy open minded skeptic. Sometimes that puts my understanding which has always resulted from making practical applications at odds with the conventional science follower types.

What I do know from experience and from my personal first hand observation is that things sometimes CAN be what they SEEM. The Biological Soil Crusts behind my backyard covering every exposed Granite Rock faces or shallow soils all through  these Boreal Forests serve the exact same function and purpose as those Desert Biological Soil Crusts. And what is it that they do ? They make Soil, just like they do in any other varied ecological habitat around the Earth.
When I first came here I was astonished at the sheer amount of granite bedrock everywhere around western Sweden. I wondered how anything grew at all in these Forests. Obviously LOTS of water takes care of that and it rains here all the time. Now in the past when we've had some periods of no rainy days lasting for a month and a half, many of even the bigger shrubs & trees on Hissingen Island, (it's really a Penninsula - but don't ask why !!!) will die. The soils are extremely shallow here, but what soils there are come from these magnificent biological machines. Take a look at this photo below of how common it is to have wind blown over or downed trees here. The average soil is just not that deep and it doesn't take an extremely violent windstorm to topple down the trees here.

Now to give you some geological perspective of Western Sweden, take a further look at the Göteborg Archipelago where the majority of the geology is exposed to the elements. However, in some small niches on these islands, there does exist some soil and vegetation. The tree fallen over here is an example of something that occurs all of the time. The soils are just not that deep here and what little soil there is, is from biocrustal breakdown on granite rocks. Where I come from in Southern California, such soils would never even begin to support any tree. Thanks because we do not have the constant steady rainfall that they have here in Sweden.

One of the things that first struck me when I first observed this tough seemingly harsh rocky granite  landscape is where did all of this soil come from in the first place ? If you listen to and believe the story that is told of the history of these particular geological formations of western Sweden with it's extremely abundant Archipelago island chain strung along all around it's coasts, is that it's formation came from the time period of when the Ice Age ended and the great Glacial receding came along and reveal this rock hard sterile looking landscape. Of course like all receding glacial landscapes, for many years there is this sterile appearance to it. Take note of this series of photos which reveals a seemingly lifeless barren landscape after glaciers disappear.

Upsala Glacier, Argentina 1908 to 2004

Krossfjorden, survey of Fjortende Julibreen Glacier
Okay, as you can see and take note above, this is common around the globe. But notice the sterile landscape for which is left behind after the glacier recedes. Makes sense. Every landscape starts with a blank canvas, so how did this particular soil develop over time to allow plant life to be possible ? Clearly seeds just don't blow in on the wind and take hold automatically transforming it into a brand new forested ecosystem. There are clearly a series of successional biological mechanisms which need to take place prior to this seeding event. This is where Biological Soil Crusts come into play. So assuming the Swedish nature Signage along the trail pathway was telling me the truth about how the Ice Age World  finally disappeared, then how did this Soil come about anyway ?

Spores of all these Lichens, Algaes, Mosses and various forms of fungi need to enter the scene first to create a foundational Soil system for the succession of life to begin. A clue for me on how this soil could have developed over time came from that top photo on this page. There was just something interesting I noticed.The rock face with the bio-diverse colonies of Lichens, Mosses, Algaes and Fungi/Bacteria was pock marked in a sort of checker board pattern and I wonder why and what could have done this. Take a closer look:

Now if you look closely, you'll see the area is clearly pockmarked as of some bird or animal were foraging around for some sort of sustenance. Of course the number one bird around here for this is the Magpie, but there is also a very large wild breed of pigeon which will graze areas in large groups as well. The nice side effect this has is constant turn over of organic matter. But no harm done as with the massive amounts of moisture received here, the mosses and lichens rapidly repair themselves in no time.

Clearly you can see something has foraged around and turned over some of the mosses looking for earthworms or sowbugs, both of which are abundant underneath this layer of living biological material. Below, let's take a closer magnification look at has happened exactly. These birds, Magpies, Jackdaws, Black Birds and even the large Forest Pigeaons which are quire shy are heavy feeders, especially in Springtime where they have young. After that their foraging habits tapers off, well except for the Magpies.

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine
Okay so we get a good idea and picture of just what happens to these granite rock slabs and interestingly, these organisms seem to repair themselves much more rapidly so that by next year the whole process starts all over again the following year. But what happens to this material once it's turned over by these critters ? Well these granite slab and boulder formations here run for great lengths from north to south and there are many fissures, crevices and cracks running the same directions. It is here where the soil builds up and let me show you how. This next photo illustrates where the uplifted material goes once it's disturbed. It falls off the edges and into these voids or spaces only to collect and decompose. Not only organic matter, but bits and chips of the granite pebbles and sand grains themselves appear here. Take a look.

This build up here is about 10 inches thick 
just from this season
Here is an window into the world of the creatures I've seen responsible. These are birds for in or around the forests here. Take a look. This first bird here you will recognize, but it's far different than the common city pigeon you are use to seeing. It's called a European Wood or forest Pigeon (Columba palumbus) and this is the same ground foraging bird I photographed at the Gunnebo Estate in my other post. They looked like a covey of giant quails in groups of 12 - 15 rummaging around on the ground there.
This next bird is not just your common black bird. It is much larger and the male seen here with the yellow ringed eye and orange beak sings like a Western Thrasher or Mockingbird for those familiar with them, The female is dull sooty brown with dull brown beak. The male's singing is beautiful and echoes everywhere through the forest. The are ground foragers like the Pigeons and pick through the easy to turn over mosses and lichens. Actually, both the males and females are heavy foragers.
This next bird is probably more recognizable to most as they are found not only throughout northern/central Europe, but across North America and Asia in Siberia. We know it as the common Magpie, but they also are ground foragers and are often picking and turning over the mosses and lichens here. With that in mind, let me show you some other images of just where all of these Biocrustal Colonies love to show up here in Sweden. Actually anywhere they want. Often times houses with the clay-tile or stone roofs will need replacing if old enough. That's because on the north sides of roofs there are usually heavily encrusted mats of these lifeforms eating and chewing their way through the mineral material. After all, that's what they do. They also chew through headstones at the Cemeteries here and I have some photos of this. People after some decades will have to replace a family member's headstone if it has been severely damaged and crumbled by these crusts. These first two pictures are from the surrounding walls of one cemetery just to illustrate their prolific ability to colonize just about anywhere.

Photo: Mine
These next pictures are examples of grave stones. when my wife's grandmother died and we went up north for the funeral in this little small town with a small church with an attached cemetery, which was very very old, the wear patterns on the granite stones were extremely well worn and these living things were responsible for this break up of tough mineral rock material. Like the man made material of concrete and such, nothing is safe from these biological mineral breakdown machines.

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine

Photo: Mine
Well that is enough material to illustrate just what these organisms are capable of doing for a healthy planet, even if we are inconvenienced at times. This cemetery was actually one of the more better maintained one's I've seen. It appeared to me that they have from time to time gone in here and pressure-washed most of the stones as a regular maintenance procedure. Unfortunately on many of these stones, the biological material in manufacturing some of those strong enzymes for which they accomplish their soil building and fertility processes have taken their toll on the normally rock hard material where even the pressure washing will pockmark out chips and chunks of stone which defaces the writing on the grave marker. Eventually the stones almost always have to be replaced, but not for some couple decades depending on how bad the environmental circumstances.

Pink Waters- Lake Retba in Senegal
So should we consider these as Biological Soil Crusts ?  I think so. They are the same organisms with slightly differing functions in the habitats they are found but ultimately accomplish the same goals. This is not a definitions shell game or word semantics debate. Definitions have a way of changing as we gain more understanding. Why even the Antarctic and Arctic regions are technically deserts by definition. The both have extremely low humidity levels somewhere around 3% and extremely low precipitation averages, though you may not think it so. Cyanobacteria which is often spoken of as part of these desert crusts also accomplish this in the photo below.

Would you consider after viewing the above photo that these Cyanobacteria a desert ONLY organism ? No of course not. What the Swedish example does is focus attention on an otherwise ignored and discounted amazing biological process found in our desert environments. Yes they are different and yet the same. They work faster and greater which allows one to illustrate a process otherwise unseen or regarded as of little importance. This is now obvious with all the NOT-SO-ECO-GREEN ENERGY VENTURES which are now being bulldozed into the Deserts around our planet which is creating other ecological nightmares for which many of the companies involved couldn't care less.

What will they now do as a means of maintenance with these places ? Once the soil is stripped of their Biological Soil Crusts in these deserts, dust storms become far worse. As a means of maintenance, these companies cannot allow and biological growth in between these solar panels or other wind-energy units. Yet like the Oil Companies who create moonscapes inside of their oilfields for a purpose, then Eco-Not-So-Green Companies will most likely employ some of the same methods used by the Big Corporate Oil Industry to sterilize the soil around their oil wells. Ever see a sterilized looking oil field ? Wanna know why they are sterilized ?

Oil Fields No. 1, Belridge, California 2002

You'll first off take note that I did NOT pull a picture out from a Saudi Arabian Desert Magician's black Top-Hat here. This is Belridge California. First off it should be noted that Oil Companies CANNOT afford to have dry grasses or anything else to facilitate the movement of a grass fire inside ANY of their fields.
When I worked for Coors Bio-Tech back in the late 1980s, we had an Orange Peel Solvent much like the picture here to the right called Bio-T Max. It is known by another name in the chemical industry called D-Limonene. It is water soluble and has numerous practical cleaning and degreasing applications. As a Manufacturing Representative for Coors Bio-Tech (yes the same Golden Colorado Company that makes Beer) it was my job to canvas for official distributors for this product. One of these was a Chemical Distributor of products to the Oil Industries from Santa Barbara to Bakersfield California. Very well known oil producing areas to many. Even Santa Barbara off the coast.
This chemical distributor even sold an incredibly industrial strength chemical herbicide that guaranteed his oil company clients that the herbicide would destroy all biological life on and under the ground and on top of the soil and prevent any weed seeds from germinating on that site for at least 7 years. I bet most of you didn't know this kind of stuff even existed. Monsanto created Agent Orange for the Vietnam War as a Tropic Forest defoliant for which these areas today are still mostly desert regions. And yet these Oil Companies still need or require a strong chemical sterilizer to keep fields plant life free. Only a Armageddon sized event will stop it

Photo from Landscapes by Cochran Inc

Landscapes by Cochran Inc.
What do you suppose all those Not-So-Green-Energy Companies will be using as far as ongoing Land Management Soil Sterilant programs ??? Will they even use one ??? They have to maintain a plant-free zone under solar panels to prevent wildfires and hiring manual labor for a permanent maintenance solution to keep the dust down. Of course that'll be cutting into profits which is what all these schemes about in the first place. Have they even considered a company which manufactures a Biological Soil Crust Inoculum for which a healthy more ecologically sound solution would correct an already mistake ridden system ? I doubt it. However, someone should monitor what they intend on doing to the soils out there as a means of regular maintenance. In the interest of responsible sustainable technologies moving forwards in this area, we have this company's site to view:
Terra Derm: Restoring Soils on a Global Scale
Images from Terraderma

The facts here show and prove that there are many many amazing things out there in the natural world yet to be discovered, researched and understood for use as a practical application for proper custodianship of this Earth. No matter what or how we want to define these amazing organisms, or what personal professional bias we have on these subjects, the work with which they accomplish everywhere around our planet Earth should be admired by everyone. To that end I hope I've made an otherwise boring science subject fascinating to the average person.

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