In both field and greenhouse studies, cyanobacterial and cyanolichens of cold-temperature deserts often enhance growth and essential uptake by associated herbs. That effect is associated with better seedling establishment and larger seedlings. The following are possible mechanisms for these effects: (1) the microbiota concentrate essential elements in available forms in soil surface layers, (2) the microbial surface covers are usually darker colored than the soil itself and produce warmer soils during cool seasons when soil water is most available, (3) the gelatinous sheaths of several cyanobacterial genera common on alkaline deserts contain chelating compounds, and (4) conditions that favor persistent microbial growths on soil surfaces also favor maintenance of larger populations of microorganisms that form mycorrhizal and/or rhizosheath associations with seed plants. There is evidence that associated animals may be nutritionally benefited by the enhanced mineral content of forage plants growing in well-developed cyanobacterial crusts.
Harper, Kimball T. and Pendleton, Rosemary L.
"Cyanobacteria and cyanolichens: can they enhance availability of essential minerals for higher plants?,"
Great Basin Naturalist: Vol. 53
, Article 8.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/gbn/vol53/iss1/8