Biological soil crusts cover hundreds of hectares of sand dunes at the northern tip of Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts, USA). Although the presence of crusts in this habitat has long been recognized, neither the organisms nor their ecological roles have been described. In this study, we report on the microbial community composition of crusts from this region and describe several of their physical and chemical attributes that bear on their environmental role. Microscopic and molecular analyses revealed that eukaryotic green algae belonging to the genera Klebsormidium or Geminella formed the bulk of the material sampled. Phylogenetic reconstruction of partial 16S rDNA sequences obtained from denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) fingerprints also revealed the presence of bacterial populations related to the subclass of the Proteobacteria, the newly described phylum Geothrix/Holophaga/ Acidobacterium, the Cytophaga/Flavobacterium/Bacteroides group, and spirochetes. The presence of these crusts had significant effects on the hydric properties and nutrient status of the natural substrate. Although biological soil crusts are known to occur in dune environments around the world, this study enhances our knowledge of their geographic distribution and suggests a potential ecological role for crust communities in this landscape.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Soil Science