Microbial Ecology

, Volume 58, Issue 2, pp 394–407 | Cite as

Community Assembly of Biological Soil Crusts of Different Successional Stages in a Temperate Sand Ecosystem, as Assessed by Direct Determination and Enrichment Techniques

  • Tanja Margrit Langhans
  • Christian Storm
  • Angelika SchwabeEmail author
Plant Microbe Interactions


In temperate regions, biological soil crusts (BSCs: complex communities of cyanobacteria, eukaryotic algae, bryophytes, and lichens) are not well investigated regarding community structure and diversity. Furthermore, studies on succession are rare. For that reason, the community assembly of crusts representing two successional stages (initial, 5 years old; and stable, >20 years old) were analyzed in an inland sand ecosystem in Germany in a plot-based approach (2 × 18 plots, each 20 × 20 cm). Two different methods were used to record the cyanobacteria and eukaryotic algae in these communities comprehensively: determination directly out of the soil and enrichment culture techniques. Additionally, lichens, bryophytes, and phanerogams were determined. We examine four hypotheses: (1) A combination of direct determination and enrichment culture technique is necessary to detect cyanobacteria and eukaryotic algae comprehensively. In total, 45 species of cyanobacteria and eukaryotic algae were detected in the study area with both techniques, including 26 eukaryotic algae and 19 cyanobacteria species. With both determination techniques, 22 identical taxa were detected (11 eukaryotic algae and 11 cyanobacteria). Thirteen taxa were only found by direct determination, and ten taxa were only found in enrichment cultures. Hence, the hypothesis is supported. Additionally, five lichen species (three genera), five bryophyte species (five genera), and 24 vascular plant species occurred. (2) There is a clear difference between the floristic structure of initial and stable crusts. The different successional stages are clearly separated by detrended correspondence analysis, showing a distinct structure of the community assembly in each stage. In the initial crusts, Klebsormidium flaccidum, Klebsormidium cf. klebsii, and Stichococcus bacillaris were important indicator species, whereas the stable crusts are especially characterized by Tortella inclinata. (3) The biodiversity of BSC taxa and vascular plant species increases from initial to stable BSCs. There are significantly higher genera and species numbers of cyanobacteria and eukaryotic algae in initial BSCs. Stable BSCs are characterized by significantly higher species numbers of bryophytes and vascular plant species. The results show that, in the investigated temperate region, the often-assumed increase of biodiversity in the course of succession is clearly taxa-dependent. Both successional stages of BSCs are diversity “hot spots” with about 29 species of all taxa per 20 × 20 cm plot. (4) Nitrogen and chlorophyll a concentrations increase in the course of succession. The chlorophyll a content of the crusts (cyanobacteria, eukaryotic algae, bryophyte protonemata) is highly variable across the studied samples, with no significant differences between initial and stable BSCs; nor were ecologically significant differences in soil nutrient contents observed. According to our results, we cannot confirm this hypothesis; the age difference between our two stages is probably not big enough to show such an increase.


Direct Determination Species Number Nostoc Vascular Plant Species Biological Soil Crust 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The study was carried out with the support of a PhD grant by the Darmstadt University of Technology. We thank Prof. Dr. B. Büdel (Kaiserslautern) for most valuable help concerning the study and determination of BSCs and Ursula Lebong for technical assistance. The improvement of the English text by Dr. A. Thorson (Oxford) is much appreciated. Especially, thanks to the “Regierungspräsidium Darmstadt” for permission to work in the area.

Supplementary material

248_2009_9532_MOESM1_ESM.doc (33 kb)
ESM 1 Supplementary Data (DOC 32 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tanja Margrit Langhans
    • 1
  • Christian Storm
    • 1
  • Angelika Schwabe
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department Biology, Vegetation EcologyDarmstadt University of TechnologyDarmstadtGermany

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