Remote Sensing of Biological Soil Crust in the Chihuahuan desert ecosystem

Seth Burruss

Biocrust are a diverse community of organisms comprising (cyanobacteria, algae, bacteria, and fungi) and macroscopic (lichens, mosses, and microarthropods).  They exist in top few centimeters of the soils surface predominantly in drylands and their community structures can vary greatly in heterogeneity.  Biocrust are estimated to cover 40-100% of the ground surface in drylands which represents 45% of earth’s terrestrial surface.  This large spatial coverage paired with the knowledge of biocrust’s role in the carbon, hydrological, and nutrient cycles carries global scale impacts.  With recent research reaffirming the importance of biocrust on ecosystem functions in drylands.  Their conservation has become an important topic for land managers.  However due to the limited data on the factors influencing biocrust distribution, and that they have only been mapped in a few ecosystems their inclusion in management programs is still limited.  Consequently, without accurate information on biocrust distribution and community structures it is impossible to accurately measure biocrust effects on biogeochemical cycles.  We intend to fill these knowledge gaps using an unmanned arial vehicle with a hyperspectral sensor to map biocrust distribution, and its variable community secessional stages.