Some arid lands in the American West degraded by military exercises that date back to General George Patton's Word War II maneuvers in the Mojave Desert should get a boost from an innovative research project led by the University of Colorado Boulder.
Headed up by CU-Boulder Assistant Professor Nichole Barger, the research team is focused on developing methods to restore biological soil crusts -- microbial communities primarily concentrated on soil surfaces critical to decreasing erosion and increasing water retention and soil fertility. Such biological soil crusts, known as "biocrusts," can cover up to 70 percent of the ground in some arid ecosystems and are dominated by cyanobacteria, lichens, mosses, fungi and bacteria, she said.
The project is aimed at restoring fragile habitats in desert areas that have been affected by the movement of U.S. military vehicles, including tanks, as well as high foot traffic, said Barger, a faculty member in CU-Boulder's ecology and environmental biology department. The team has two U.S. Department of Defense study sites -- Fort Bliss, which straddles southern Texas and New Mexico and is located in a hot desert environment, and the Dugway Proving Ground in northwest Utah, seated in a cool desert environment.
"Biocrusts often are associated with increased soil nutrients and water retention, but their most important task is to stabilize soil surfaces against wind and water erosion," Barger said. "While most biocrusts are relatively resilient to wind and water erosion, they are highly susceptible to compressional forces like those generated by foot and vehicle traffic associated with ground-based military activities."
At military installations like Fort Bliss, the Dugway Proving Ground and in the California/Arizona Maneuver Area in the Mojave Desert used by Patton's troops, scars of past military activity still are evident, said Barger. "You can go to these places and see that the biocrus
|Contact: Nichole Barger|
University of Colorado at Boulder