Great Basin Naturalist


The role of the cyanobacterium Microcoleus vaginatus in cold-desert soil crusts is investigated using scanning electron microscopy. Crusts from sandstone-, limestone-, and gypsum-derived soils are examined. When dry, polysaccharide sheath material from this cyanobacterium can be seen winding through and across all three types of soil surfaces, attaching to and binding soil particles together. When wet, sheaths and living filaments can be seen absorbing water, swelling and covering soil surfaces even more extensively. Addition of negatively charged material, found both as sheath material and attached clay particles, may affect cation exchange capacity of these soils as well. As a result of these observations, we propose that the presence of this cyanobacterium may significantly enhance soil stability, moisture retention, and fertility of cold-desert soils.