Landscape Ecology

, Volume 23, Issue 9, pp 1093–1105 | Cite as

Biological soil crust distribution is related to patterns of fragmentation and landuse in a dryland agricultural landscape of southern Australia

  • Cassia F. ReadEmail author
  • David H. Duncan
  • Peter A. Vesk
  • Jane Elith
Research Article


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.


Cryptogamic crusts Moss Lichen Patch size Grazing Landscape disturbance Boosted regression tree models 



We thank Claire Moxham and Matt White for assistance with site selection, John Morgan for advice during project design, David Eldridge for comments that improved the clarity of this manuscript and Claire Moxham, Lucy Simnett and Sally Kenny for field assistance. Soil analyses were performed by CBSP Laboratories, Bibra Lake, Western Australia. Numerous Landholders and Parks Victoria allowed us to conduct surveys on their properties. Birchip Cropping Group assisted with landholder engagement. This project was supported by the Holsworth Wildlife Research Fund, North Central and Mallee Catchment Management Authorities through Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, and the Victorian State Government initiative “Our Rural Landscapes.” Jane Elith was funded by ARC grant DP0772671, and the Australian Centre of Excellence for Risk Analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cassia F. Read
    • 1
    Email author
  • David H. Duncan
    • 2
  • Peter A. Vesk
    • 1
  • Jane Elith
    • 1
  1. 1.School of BotanyUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Sustainability & EnvironmentArthur Rylah Institute for Environmental ResearchHeidelbergAustralia

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