Plant and Soil

, Volume 429, Issue 1–2, pp 227–240 | Cite as

Successful field cultivation of moss biocrusts on disturbed soil surfaces in the short term

  • Chongfeng BuEmail author
  • Ruxue Li
  • Chun Wang
  • Matthew A. Bowker
Regular Article



The artificial cultivation of biocrusts may represent a new low-cost and highly efficient solution to erosion control. However, establishment under varying field environmental conditions is understudied. We tested a variety of methods, arriving at a set of technical recommendations for rapid establishment of moss biocrusts on disturbed slopes, and the industrialization of this process.


In multiple field experiments, aimed at moss biocrust cultivation and establishment, we considered the following factors: nutrient solutions (control and weekly addition); water-retaining agent (control and addition); plant growth regulator (control and biweekly addition); shading (0, 50%, 70% and 90%); dispersal method (broadcast and spray application). In all cases, we initially inoculated soils with 700 g/m2 of moss biocrust materials. We monitored dynamic changes of the coverage and density of moss biocrusts during the cultivation period, and their biomass at the end.


We successfully cultured moss biocrusts in a field setting in as little as two months. Specifically, we found:(1) Regardless of the dispersal method, the nutrient solutions and some degree of shading both increased the coverage, plant density and biomass of moss biocrusts, whereas the water-retaining agent and plant growth regulator had little influence on these parameters. The shading treatments improved the survival rates of moss biocrusts, with the shade rating of 70% exhibiting the best performance. Further, the nutrient solutions had a more positive effect under shaded conditions. (2) The growth of mosses dispersed in the fall exceeded that of mosses dispersed in the summer. (3) Under both dispersal techniques, the maximal coverage of the moss biocrusts exceeded 90%, and the maximal plant density of moss biocrusts reached 120 stems/cm2under broadcast dispersal, and 150 stems/cm2, under spray dispersal.


The rapid restoration of moss biocrusts can best be achieved by spray-dispersal or broadcast-dispersal, while also applying Hoagland solution to supply nutrients and maintaining soil moisture at 15–25%. Fall inoculation appears more likely to lead to better moss establishment, in fact, high moss mortality occurred in summer unless shading was used. We have some evidence, observational in fall, and experimental in summer, that moderate shading favors establishment. This technique could feasibly be up scaled and adopted to restore some ecological functions on various types of engineered disturbed surfaces. Over a longer period, the survivorship, succession and sustainability of artificial moss biocrusts should be explored specifically.


Soil surface damaged by engineering activities Moss biocrusts Nutrient solution Shading rating Ecological restoration 



This work was supported by the National Key Research and Development Program of China (2017YFC0504703), Major Project of Collaborative Innovation of Yangling District (2017CXY-08), the Chinese Universities Scientific Fund (2014YQ006) and the West Light Foundation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2014-91). M.A.B. also acknowledges support from National Science Foundation Dimensions of Biodiversity Program (1638966). The authors are grateful to Yang ZHAO, Senpeng YUAN, Xinkai LI, Bingyin LI, Yiping LI, Si YANG, Yanzhe YANG who offered assistance. The authors thank anonymous referees and editors for their valuable comments.

Supplementary material

11104_2017_3453_MOESM1_ESM.tif (2.5 mb)
Fig. S1 Design of our broadcast-dispersal equipment (a, b) and the process of dispersal (c). (TIFF 2607 kb)
11104_2017_3453_Fig8_ESM.gif (21 kb)

High resolution image (GIF 20 kb)

11104_2017_3453_MOESM2_ESM.tif (4.8 mb)
Fig. S2 Design of our spray-dispersal equipment (a: Pump; b: Stirrer; c: Mixed slurry) and the process of dispersal (d). (TIFF 4866 kb)
11104_2017_3453_Fig9_ESM.gif (33 kb)

High resolution image (GIF 33 kb)

11104_2017_3453_MOESM3_ESM.docx (61 kb)
Fig. S3 Dynamic changes in the temperature (a), light intensity (b), air humidity (c) and soil moisture content (d) conditions of the test plots under different shade conditions over time. (DOCX 60 kb)
11104_2017_3453_MOESM4_ESM.tif (4.1 mb)
Fig. S4 Rapid restoration process of broadcast- dispersed and spray- dispersed moss biocrusts under field conditions in stage I. (TIFF 4238 kb)
11104_2017_3453_Fig10_ESM.gif (27 kb)

High resolution image (GIF 26 kb)

11104_2017_3453_MOESM5_ESM.tif (4.2 mb)
Fig. S5 Photographs of broadcast- dispersed and spray-dispersed moss biocrusts crusts at various stages of development as well as the growth and development of moss biocrusts treated with nutrient solutions under a sunshade with a shade rating of 70%. (TIFF 4334 kb)
11104_2017_3453_Fig11_ESM.gif (29 kb)

High resolution image (GIF 28 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chongfeng Bu
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Ruxue Li
    • 1
  • Chun Wang
    • 1
  • Matthew A. Bowker
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of Soil and Water ConservationNorthwest A & F UniversityYanglingChina
  2. 2.Institute of Soil and Water ConservationChinese Academy of Sciences and Ministry of Water ResourcesYanglingChina
  3. 3.School of ForestryNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA

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