We analyzed the microtopography of microbiotic soil crusts at 3 sites on the Colorado Plateau of southern Utah and investigated distributions of cyanobacteria and several lichens in distinctive microhabitats created by this topography. At all 3 sites the long axes of linear soil mounds were oriented nonrandomly in a NNW–SSE direction. The conspicuous and consistent orientation of soil mounds may result from a combination of physical and biotic processes. Subtle differences across sites in mound orientation and organismal distribution suggest that these variables may be useful in comparing disturbance histories of crusts retrospectively.

Differences in colonization frequencies, abundances, and distributions of microorganisms comprising the crusts, as a function of mound aspect or exposure, suggest that these organisms are associated with particular aspects due to distinctive and favorable microhabitats on these exposures. Polysaccharide sheath material, deposited by cyanobacteria, and associated filaments occurred in greater quantities on ENE than WSW mound exposures, and cover by Collema spp. lichens exhibited the same pattern. Colonization of mounds by common lichen species occurred significantly more frequently on ENE than WSW mound aspects at 2 of 3 sites. In contrast, the 3 most common lichen species, aside from Collema spp., did not exhibit a tendency for greater cover on ENE than WSW mound aspects. Physiological differences between gelatinous cyanolichens and green-algal lichens may explain the different distributional patterns of Collema spp. and the 3 other lichens.