Many Texans love hiking, and various Texas cities and parks have great trails for the enjoyment of visitors. However, while there are many aspects of Texas parks to enjoy, it is imperative to stay on the trail while hiking at these parks. For parks with drier habitats and soils, this becomes especially true. Why? One answer lies in the preservation of biocrusts.
What are biocrusts? Biocrusts are thin layers of organisms, usually in the form of lichens, mosses or cyanobacteria, that hold the top-most layers of soil together. While most species of plants and fungi avoid these conditions, biocrusts have adapted to thrive in them.
Biocrusts are composed of a range of organisms. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, because as a unit biocrusts have the important role of keeping nutrients intact within the soil. These organisms excel at fixing nitrogen and putting carbon back into soils, breaking down organic matter and protecting soils from erosion. By doing this, they provide key nutrients needed for the survival of many other plants and wildlife, forming an important foundation in arid to semi-arid ecosystems.
As many people are unfamiliar with biocrusts, they tend also to be unfamiliar with how they are damaging them. As a result, humans are often more likely to walk on biocrusts than they are to acknowledge their importance. The continuous damage done to biocrusts can debilitate the soil, and prevent the biocrusts making nutrients and water available for other species, in turn making it harder for other plants and wildlife to grow.
Biocrusts are often disturbed by humans who wander from trails. Hopefully, this post has shown that staying on the trail and not damaging biocrusts is important!