Plant and Soil

, Volume 429, Issue 1–2, pp 187–198 | Cite as

Biocrust moss populations differ in growth rates, stress response, and microbial associates

  • Kyle D. DohertyEmail author
  • Matthew A. Bowker
  • Anita J. Antoninka
  • Nancy C. Johnson
  • Troy E. Wood
Regular Article



A growing body of research supports the feasibility of biocrust rehabilitation. Identifying populations of key species that are amenable to cultivation and that are resilient in rehabilitation contexts would advance the efficacy of these technologies. Here we investigate the growth and stress response of the cosmopolitan biocrust moss, Syntrichia ruralis.


We sampled populations of S. ruralis along a precipitation seasonality gradient from the Colorado Plateau ecoregion of the western United States. We cultivated these populations in an experiment manipulating duration of hydration periods on a weekly cycle. We then treated greenhouse grown materials with brief, stressful watering events, measuring how many events they could survive.


All populations grew at an accelerated rate compared to growth in a natural setting, at least doubling biomass in five months. Increasing duration of hydration periods led to more growth in all but one population. Volunteer biocrust algae and cyanobacteria developed during cultivation, and differed among populations. Greenhouse grown mosses differed in their response to stressful watering, with the most susceptible populations dying at half the number events compared to the most tolerant.


These findings argue for informed selection and deployment of Syntrichia ruralis populations for soil rehabilitation.


Rehabilitation Restoration Biocrust Syntrichia Moss Bryophyte 



We would like to thank the United States Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program for funding this research. We would also like to thank Ana Giraldo Silva for assistance with identification of algae and cyanobacteria. Finally, we would like to thank Jeffrey Wright for his help with the stress experiment.

Supplementary material

11104_2017_3389_MOESM1_ESM.png (441 kb)
Appendix S1 Patterns of mean percent cover (y-axis) of dominant taxa (color fill) differed over time (x-axis) across five Syntrichia ruralis populations (individual facets). (PNG 440 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kyle D. Doherty
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew A. Bowker
    • 1
  • Anita J. Antoninka
    • 1
  • Nancy C. Johnson
    • 2
  • Troy E. Wood
    • 3
  1. 1.School of ForestryNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  2. 2.School of Earth Sciences and Environmental SustainabilityNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological Sciences and Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental ResearchNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA

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