Effects of biological soil crusts on seed bank, germination and establishment of two annual plant species in the Tengger Desert (N China)
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The presence of biological soil crusts can affect the germination and survival of vascular plants, but the reasons are not well investigated. We have conducted a field investigation and greenhouse experiments to test the effect of crusts on two desert annual plants, which occur on the stabilized dunes of the Tengger Desert in N China. The results showed that biological soil crusts negatively influenced the seed bank of Eragrostis poaeoides and Bassia dasyphylla. The important effect of biological soil crusts on seed germination and establishment were performed indirectly through reducing the amount of germinating seeds. Field investigation and experimental results with regard to the seed bank indicated that higher seedling density was found in disturbed crust soil and bare soil surface than in intact crust soils. Greenhouse experiments showed that the effects of biological soil crusts on germination and establishment of the two plants are not obvious in moist condition, while disturbed crusts are more favorable to seed germination in dry treatment. Significant differences in biomass were found between disturbed crust soil and bare soil. Survival and growth of the two annual plants were enhanced in both algal and moss crusts during the season of rainfall or in moist environment, but crusts did not affect seedling survival in the dry period. The small seeded E. poaeoides has higher germination than larger-seeded B. dasyphylla in crust soils, but B. dasyphylla has a relatively higher survival rate than E. poaeoides in crust soils.