The last step of the project will involve a series of rainfall simulations and wind tunnel experiments combined with broad-scale soil erosion modeling to evaluate the influence of biocrust and native plant restoration in terms of precipitation and soil erosion.
While DOD military installations cover nearly 30 million acres -- 70 percent of which are located in arid regions of the West -- Barger said the research also could aid in the effective management of other federal lands. "We think our work on biocrusts also will be of interest to land managers at agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service," Barger said.
The adaptation of biocrusts to extreme environments likely will come into play even more as climate change continues to heat and dry the West, she said. "We expect the drought in the Southwest to intensify as a result of climate change, and this project should tell us more about how adaptive these biocrusts are under shifting environmental conditions."
The research project also has health implications, said Barger, since the disturbance of biocrusts can trigger the release of significant amounts of atmospheric dust, a dominant pollutant in some desert metropolitan areas. "There is a broad societal interest in stabilizing dryland soils in order to protect not only the functioning of local ecosystems but also human populations that reside in surrounding communities."
"In terms of tackling an important environmental issue, this is by far the most exciting research project that I have been involved in," said Barger, who has worked in Hawaii, Central America, South America, China and South Africa.
|Contact: Nichole Barger|
University of Colorado at Boulder