Biological soil crust distribution is related to patterns of fragmentation and landuse in a dryland agricultural landscape of southern Australia
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- Read, C.F., Duncan, D.H., Vesk, P.A. et al. Landscape Ecol (2008) 23: 1093. doi:10.1007/s10980-008-9270-3
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The dryland agricultural landscape of north-west Victoria, Australia, includes isolated remnants of eucalypt woodland that are exposed to ongoing disturbance from sheep grazing and cropping activity. Biological soil crusts are a functionally important feature of these woodland communities. We used a modern form of regression (boosted regression tree (BRT) models) to investigate relationships between crust abundance and environmental and landscape variables. We also investigated whether the use of broad morphological groups of crust organisms is more informative than simply measuring total crust cover. Remnant size was the single most influential variable for crust abundance, with negligible crust cover in small patches (<5 ha). The BRT model also identified relationships between crust abundance and available P, soil C and perennial grass. We argue that disturbance from stock grazing and camping is the mechanism driving these relationships. Other variables related to crust abundance were proximity to the windward edge, litter cover and tree cover. Morphological groups showed a differential response to some variables, suggesting assessment of total cover may mask important patterns in community structure. Crust disturbance represents a serious issue for maintenance of ecosystem function in the study region, particularly loss of crusts from small remnants because the majority of remnants are small.