Question: What is the nature of the relationships between cover, diversity and abundance of biological soil crusts, cover and diversity of vascular plants, and annual rainfall, soil texture and forestry practices in Callitris glaucophylla woodlands?
Location: Arid and semi-arid Callitris glaucophylla-dominated woodlands of eastern Australia.
Methods: We documented soil crust-forming mosses, lichens and liverworts at 83 woodland sites along a gradient of declining rainfall. Linear and non-linear regression were used to examine relationships between soil crust species and attributes of vascular plant communities, and a similarity matrix (species abundance × sites) was subjected to Non-metric Multi-Dimensional Scaling (MDS), and Analysis of Similarities (ANOSIM) to show the degree of association between groups of taxa, and soil texture, rainfall classes and forestry practices.
Results: We collected 86 taxa. Mosses were dominated by the family Pottiaceae, and lichens were dominated by squamulose forms. Average annual rainfall was highly correlated with soil crust community composition, and loamy soils supported a greater cover and diversity of taxa compared with sandy soils. Increases in tree cover were associated with significant, though weak, increases in abundance, but not diversity, of crusts. Crusts tended to be more diverse in areas that (1) had a sparse cover of ground-storey plants; (2) were relatively stable – as indicated by the proportion of perennial and/or native plants; (3) had more stable soil surfaces; and (4) were unlogged. Litter cover, overstorey thinning, and livestock grazing had no appreciable effect on crust diversity or cover.
Conclusions: Callitris glaucophylla woodlands provide substantial habitat for soil crust organisms, and the dense tree cover and closed canopies of Callitris do not appear to have a major influence on the structure of biological crust communities. Unlike other woodland systems, relatively few patches would be required to reserve a high diversity of crust species.