, Volume 75, Issue 3, pp 373-391

First online:

NO Gas Loss from Biologically Crusted Soils in Canyonlands National Park, Utah

  • Nichole N. BargerAffiliated withInstitute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado Email author 
  • , Jayne BelnapAffiliated withUSGS-BRD, Canyonlands Field Station
  • , Dennis S. OjimaAffiliated withThe Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University
  • , Arvin MosierAffiliated withUSDA-ARS, Arvin mosier

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In this study, we examined N gas loss as nitric oxide (NO) from N-fixing biologically crusted soils in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. We hypothesized that NO gas loss would increase with increasing N fixation potential of the biologically crusted soil. NO fluxes were measured from biologically crusted soils with three levels of N fixation potential (Scytonema-Nostoc-Collema spp. (dark)>Scytonema-Nostoc-Microcoleus spp. (medium)>Microcoleus spp. (light)) from soil cores and field chambers. In both cores and field chambers there was a significant effect of crust type on NO fluxes, but this was highly dependent on season. NO fluxes from field chambers increased with increasing N fixation potential of the biologically crusted soils (dark>medium>light) in the summer months, with no differences in the spring and autumn. Soil chlorophyllasis Type a content (an index of N fixation potential), percent N, and temperature explained 40% of the variability in NO fluxes from our field sites. Estimates of annual NO loss from dark and light crusts was 0.04-0.16 and 0.02-0.11-N/ha/year. Overall, NO gas loss accounts for approximately 3-7% of the N inputs via N fixation in dark and light biologically crusted soils. Land use practices have drastically altered biological soil crusts communities over the past century. Livestock grazing and intensive recreational use of public lands has resulted in a large scale conversion of dark cyanolichen crusts to light cyanobacterial crusts. As a result, changes in biologically crusted soils in arid and semi-arid regions of the western US may subsequently impact regional NO loss.


Biological soil crust Canyonlands National Park Colorado Plateau Nitrogen fixation Nitrogen gas loss Nitric oxide