Catena, Volume 195, December 2020,
This research examines high-elevation biocrusts on volcanic tephra in Haleakalā Crater, Maui, Hawai′i; geomorphic, ecological, and pedological processes are discussed, in order to provide an integrated geoecological view of linkages that have influenced biocrust genesis. The study considers four spatial scales: (i) the landscape scale; (ii) the site scale; (iii) the miniature scale and, (iv) the microscopic scale. (i) Biocrusts grow at ~ 2335 m on a hydrologic basin circumscribed by four cinder cones which contributed tephra materials during eruptions between 11000 and 5000 BP, ~2700 BP, and 970 ± 50 BP. Basin landforms provide multiple clues about past geomorphic processes that have affected crust evolution, including intermittent runoff, which decreased the length of cryptobiosis periods, allowing poikilohydric mosses to gradually expand into dense biocrusts; and widespread frost activity, which caused tephra sorting and extensive slope creep on cinder cones. Ubiquitous signs of current frost disturbance are also found on basin soils. (ii) The study site, located amidst bare volcanic tephra—ash and lapilli—includes mainly two organisms: an acrocarpous moss, Grimmia torquata, and a foliose lichen, Peltigera rufescens. Biocrusts attained 40.23% groundcover;G. torquata was found on 64 undisturbed specimens, and showed 78.3% frequency on 46 sampling plots, whereas P. rufescens grew on 23.4% of specimens. Biocrusts also supported 13 vascular species. The most common were grasses, with 5.6% cover and 67.4% total frequency, including Trisetum glomeratum (47.8%) and Deschampsia nubigena (19.6%); other vascular plants reached just 0.85% combined cover. Tests show 72% of vascular-plant cover was statistically correlated with presence of biocrusts, suggesting these have beneficial—presumably pedological—effects on vascular plant growth. (iii) Biocrust microtopography was characterized by intermingling areas of rolling, 15–35 mm-high, protrusions, and 40–75 mm-high pinnacles. (iv) Soil micromorphology indicated crust growth was probably influenced by a host of genetic processes, including wind abrasion and erosion; aeolian dust deposition; soil desiccation during seasonal wet-dry cycles; rainwash and raindrop impact; diurnal temperature cycles; and bioturbation by burrowing fauna. The interactions among these agents are integrated into an idealized crust developmental sequence during the past few millennia.