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Abstract

Biological soil crusts, composed of soil surfaces stabilized by a consortium of cyanobacteria, algae, fungi, lichens, and/or bryophytes, are common in most deserts and perform functions of primary productivity, nitrogen fixation, nutrient cycling, water redistribution, and soil stabilization. The crusts are highly susceptible to disturbance. The degree of perturbation is governed, at least in part, by the nature, intensity, and spatial and temporal distribution of the disturbance, as well as the soil type and soil moisture content at the time of disturbance. When disturbed, biological soil crusts lose their capacity to perform their ecological functions. Natural recovery of disturbed crusts can range from several years to millennia. Several strategies have been attempted to accelerate recovery of crusts. At present, artificial recovery is not economically feasible on large tracts of disturbed desert landscape. Management options available to the military on arid landscapes include: (1) eliminating or minimizing training in desert ecosystems, (2) avoiding critical seasons, (3) avoiding critical areas, (4) artificially restoring damaged crusts, and (5) considering desert training lands as “sacrifice areas.” Given the need to train in environments representative of the locations of many current and projected world conflicts, the first option is untenable. At this time, the most plausible alternative is to consider desert training lands as “sacrifice areas.” However, it is recommended that attempts be made to avoid critical seasons and areas inasmuch as logistically feasible, and that the military continue to support research into the development of cost-effective technologies for biological soil crust restoration.

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