Total Pageviews

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Cryptobiotic Soil Crusts: Take Nothing but Photos and Don't Leave Any Footprints!

     The cryptobiotic soil crusts of Arches National Park, Utah, are the inspiration for this week's post. 




    Cryptobiotic soil crusts are communities of living organisms on the soil surface in arid and semi-arid ecosystems. They are found worldwide.




        Cryptobiotic soil crusts perform important ecological roles including carbon fixation, nitrogen fixation, soil stabilization, altering soil albedo and affecting germination and nutrient levels in vascular plants. 




        The "crypto" part of the name refers to the hidden nature of the crusts. The crusts form very slowly and can look like surrounding soil in the first few decades. A footprint on these soils can cause damage that may take 250 years to recover in low rainfall areas like Arches' Fiery Furnace.




     A Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of this crust reveals a complex array of cyanobacteria (the bacteria formerly known as blue-green algae), lichen (see our 100th post on litmus and lichen), and mosses.




     This one-minute video shows the effect water has on part of the mosses in the cryptobiotic soil crust.

     Yes, a very delicate organism surrounds much of Delicate Arch in Arches N.P. and all over Utah. Treading lightly on marked trails will preserve these important, complex cryptobiotic soil crusts.




      Have you encountered cryptobiotic soil crust at Arches or elsewhere? May you have photos but no footprints to share. . .

      I am also curious about whether reddish-orange landscapes are more appealing to each of you than the green and blue ones. I grew up in the greener landscapes of New England (NE!) but I have learned to love the red-oranges after living in the west for more than half my life. The blue-greens are beautiful, too, of course.

Crustily and cryptically,
Steph

Arches: Delicate Arch and La Sal Mountains




Bryce: Peakaboo Trail






Zion: Near Angel's Landing Trail




42 comments:

  1. Treacherous terminology afoot here: cryptobiotic soils, as opposed to cryptobiotic animals, like our old friend, the Tartigrade, as opposed to cryptozoological specimens like Bigfoot and the Yeti, as opposed to cryptobotanical treats, like the man-eating tree. (As opposed to Euell Gibbons, the man eating tree...)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true, jan! You can almost "see" the tardigrades coming to life in the midst of that moss. . .

      My kids and I stalked the wild asparagus along the Highline Canal Trail here in town. They grow in cool circular patterns (aka fairy rings or pixie rings). Euell would be proud.

      Delete
    2. I thought it was just mushrooms that grow in fairy rings. Asparagus, too?

      Delete
    3. Huh. We used to call them fairy rings. . .but officially it looks like just mushrooms have that moniker. Oh, the things Euell learn here at PEOTS!

      Delete
  2. "... important ecological roles including ... altering soil albedo and affecting germination ...":

    Why is soil albedo important? (Other than to scientists interpreting aerial or satellite imagery?) And is there, as implied above, a connection between albedo and libido? Do those vascular plants prefer to do it in the dark? Or in broad daylight? At the No-tell Motel, do they not leave the light on for you? (Sorry, Tom Bodett.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. All dark humour aside, I think the vascular plants do like the dark.

    How about the Magnum Opus for the process of creating the philosopher's stone in alchemy? >>>

    nigredo, a blackening or melanosis

    albedo, a whitening or leucosis

    citrinitas, a yellowing or xanthosis

    rubedo, a reddening, purpling, or iosis

    How might that fit in?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Steph,
    Department of tying up Lichen:
    As I was looking up some “C-word” in my Merriam Webster’s 10th today, I noticed a word I had asterisked some time ago (God knows when). It is a great word! First off, it is an eponym. Second, it conjures images of a warm fuzzy toy: “Cudbear” = Cuddly bear! Great word.

    Reddish-orange is the new greenish-blue? No! Reddish-orange landscapes seem too desiccated to my eyes; greenish-blue seems lush!

    I doubt if my paths have ever crossed any cryptobiotic soil crusts in my upper Midwest neck of the woods. I would not have recognized them as such. (Now, after reading PEOTS, of course, I would!)

    Perhaps, after an extended dry spell, some cryptobiotic organisms might have cropped up to meet my feet. If so, I fear I may have stomped all over them. I might even been guilty of crypto-kicking (1:42).

    LegoPleaseDon’tFeedTheBears(OrChewTheCudbears!)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you, Scottish chemist, Cuthbert Gordon, for discovering and naming cudbears. And, thank you, Lego for ********ing the cuddly cudbear.

    Like you, I did not think I could prefer the starkness of the red-orange landscapes. Yet, I do enjoy having to look a little harder to see touches of green and blue. And having the rocks all exposed is absolutely great!

    Great song choice, btw.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Choice?! What choice?? There are just not that many songs out there with "crypt-kicking" in their lyrics.

      LegoAlthoughIGuessThereIsThis(Don'tReadBeyondTheSecondLineLestNightmaresEnsue)

      Delete
    2. Keep calm, Lego. It was truly an inspired choice; we all got a kick out of it. :-)

      Anything with the Crips and the Bloods work here?

      Delete
  6. Cartography keeps coming up in discussions on PEOTS. The University of Chicago Press has made available, free and online, the first three volumes of The History of Cartography, all six books, in PDF format, all searchable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's wonderful news, jan. I will be downloading them today.

      And while we are on this topic, have you read "The Map that Changed the World" by Simon Winchester? It's about English geologist William Smith and his great achievement, the first geological map of England and Wales.

      Lego suggested "Famous Geologists and Their Stories" as a PEOTS topic. William Smith would be a great place to start.

      Delete
  7. My wife and I are traveling to Arches at the end of next month for this year's National Park visit. We pack up our camping gear and take a train to or near to a national park, then camp and hike for about a week. So far we have visited Glacier, Yosemite, Channel Islands, and Rocky Mountains.

    I will look for and try to get you some pictures of cryptobiotic soil crust.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. David, Arches is my very favorite National Park. I have made about 6 trips there with friends and my kids. My favorite trail is the Primitive Trail where you negotiate some fins. A hike to Delicate Arch at sunset is worth it after a long day on the Primitive Trail, too. And Fiery Furnace. . .and, do much more. . .have a great time!

      And we look forward to your photos of the cryptobiotic soil crust!

      Delete
    2. Canyonlands N.P. and Dead Horse S. P. are close seconds right near Arches. . .and BLM's Fisher Towers. The State Park and Fisher Towers are great because I can bring Maizie. It's really hard to choose amongst all the beauty of Utah. . .So glad you will experience some of it!

      [I ought to work for the Utah Tourist Bureau. Will add a few photos above.]

      Delete
    3. I have been to several national parks and monuments in Utah, Bryce, Zion and Cedar Breaks. I was there with running friends, so it was one day in each park, about 16 to 20 miles a day. Never felt like I had a lot of chance to enjoy the beauty. I suspect my time in Arches will be different.

      Delete
    4. Definitely. . .If you can camp a night at Fisher Towers (16 mi away east along the river), it's really incredible--BLM land, lots of stars, beautiful cliffs, and just far enough from Moab that it is almost your own private camp. Looking forward to hearing all about your Utah adventure, David.

      Delete
  8. Funny, I've never been to Utah, but my wife and I are also headed there, too, at the end of September. We'll be hiking in Bryce and Zion, but weren't planning to go as far as Arches.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great time to go, jan. Arches is worth it if you can swing the extra trip. There is a quite desolate stretch of > 100 miles with no services to get there along I-70 from Bryce/Zion, though.

      For me, Angel's Landing Trail in Zion N.P. was the most beautiful and terrifying trail I've been on. Again, worth it (and use the chains).

      Peekaboo Loop in Bryce N.P. is great because not a lot of people hike it. We did it in November. Early and late light at Bryce are so breath-taking. . .

      Escalante National Monument is also cool and closer. But, . . .Arches! :-)

      Delete
  9. Remember -- just because it's dormant, doesn't mean you can treat it like a doormat.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true, Paul.

      I seem to have missed a lot during my swim in the storm this afternoon.

      Delete
  10. We're spending the long holiday weekend in San Francisco visiting some nieces. I needed to get something to read on the plane, and I picked up a paperback I knew nothing about, The Martian, by Andy Weir. It's the first novel by a self-programmer and space nerd, and while I wouldn't want to call it great literature, I know it's gonna tickle certain people around here. An astronaut, who's a mechanical engineer and botanist by training, gets stranded on Mars when the third manned mission there has to be aborted because of a violent sandstorm, and he's injured, his crewmates believe fatally, and gets left behind when they leave. The story is how he survives and plans his rescue. The author is all about attention to detail and obeying the laws of physics, and halfway through it, I'm enjoying it a lot more that I'd expected. There's a movie that's just out, apparently.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like fun (both the book and the trip). Have a great time. Will check out The Martian.

      Delete
    2. Oliver Sacks.

      I don't like the "He was the Shakespeare of neurology" quote by Eric Kandel. He was Oliver Sacks. Why try to compare him to someone else?

      Delete
    3. Good point. But wasn't William Shakespeare the Sacks of literature?

      LegoWhoCannotHoldAKandelToEric(OrOliver),PalingInComparison

      Delete
    4. Too reductive for me, Lego. We're all individuals, right?

      It's similar to people comparing one dog to another. . .or one cat to another. Every single being is uniquely Maizie or Noosie or Oliver or. . .

      Delete
    5. Feasible.
      In retrospect, I probably meant 'feasible.'

      Delete
    6. I agree, Word Woman, we are all individuals... except for those magicians' assistants who lie inside big boxes and get sawed in half.

      LegoTaDa!IFeelAltogertherIntegral...GiveOrTakeATorsoOrSo

      Delete
  11. Tonight is the actual burning of "The Man" here:

    http://burningman.org/event/live-webcast/

    On a different front:

    Tomorrow, Maizie and I head to play pinochle in the mountains with friends followed by a hike. It doesn't get much better than that. (Though I've never played before, I'm hoping it is bridge-like.) Any pinochle tips are appreciated :-).

    ReplyDelete
  12. I wonder whether Ben Bass has been lurking here?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, yes. . .must be, jan. Though we'd give the appropriate name, of course.

      Decided to go for it.

      Delete
  13. Tardigrades in the news.

    I think we should think about considering them PEOTS mascots as well. At least, we can add Water Bears to our list of Honey Bear, Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, and Polar Bear friends. (Just one more to make a bear 6-pack.)

    I find the name of the tardigrade fan club a little odd, both because of the "hunter", and because they couldn't stick their necks out to find an "MUS" to round out the acronym?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great article, jan. Will you be going to see the large, taupeish tardigrade?

      I agree that ISTH seems unfinished. International Society of Tardigrade Hunters. Most Unusual Species is a wee bit forced.

      I think I'd like the guy quoted in the article:
      "Anyway, he said, attributing some kind of larger purpose to the tardigrade is not something a biologist would want to do. Creatures don’t have to have a purpose. 'They merely are.'"

      Delete
    2. I'm reminded of the Little Rascals episode in which, asked to use the word in a sentence, Buckwheat exclaims, "Isthmus be my lucky day!" Speaking of which, Jean Darling died the other day.

      Delete
    3. Wasn't Tom Bolo in that scene as well?

      Delete
  14. Misbehaving Particles

    I am in the midst of molybdenum, uranium, and vanadium for PEOTS: today, figuratively; yesterday, literally. . .Oh, and waterbars (to pique your interest). ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Working Title: The Unsinkable Molybdenum Brown: Atomic Number 42 (The Answer to Absolutely Everything)

      Delete
    2. "The Unsinkable Molybdenum Brown: Atomic Number 42 (The Answer to Absolutely Everything Revealed)" is now up.

      This is comment number 42 this week. Thank you, Universe.

      Delete