Biocrusts and their Importance in Ecosystem Restoration: A New Discussion Venue

  This post announces the formation of an ERA discussion group focused on biocrusts (also known as cryptobiotic or biotic crusts) and their role in the restoration of degraded ecosystems. The group comprises members with diverse expertise and regional experience, including Ragu Bharadwaj, Ananda Fitzsimmons, Michael Pilarski, Justin Roborg-Sondergaard, and Duane Norris. It aims to facilitate a better understanding of biocrusts among ERA members.

Michael Pilarski, who spearheaded this discussion, shares his long-standing interest in biocrusts and his recent collaboration with biocrust specialist Kristina Young. He provides insights into the complex relationships between biocrusts, seeds, and various environmental factors, emphasizing biocrusts’ critical role in soil stabilization and erosion control. Pilarski also highlights key literature on biocrusts, including a meta-analysis by Caroline A. Havrilla et al., an operational manual for biocrust restoration by Akasha Faist et al., and a special issue of Restoration Ecology on biocrusts in ecological restoration. The post invites interested ERA members to join the discussion group and contribute to the evolving understanding of biocrust restoration.

Following is the ERA announcement. I don’t know how you want to handle getting the word out and giving ERA people access to the attached document. I could announce it at tomorrow’s town hall if there is a time and it feels appropriate.

ERA Announcement

ERA discussion group on biocrusts and biocrusts’ role in restoration of degraded ecosystems. Note that biocrusts are also referred to as cryoptobiotic crusts and biotic crusts. We have just started an ERA discussion group on biocrusts and biocrusts’ role in restoration of degraded ecosystems. Initial members include Ragu Bharadwaj (Boston), Ananda Fitzsimmons of Regeneration Canada (eastern Canada but with contacts in their Great Plains), Michael Pilarski, Semi-arid Washington State, Justin Roborg-Sondergaard (Portugal and Africa experience), and Duane Norris, Australia. Rodger Savory was part of a short discussion on biocrusts on an ERA Town Hall Zoom call and brought up that biocrusts can be an early stage of succession and some of his methods move the ecosystem to a higher stage of vegetation cover by replacing biocrusts with vegetation (my recollection of his remark). This is the kind of topic that multiple ERA members can contribute to a better understanding of. Currently, we are just corresponding via email. The next step will be an email list-serve group and then periodic Zoom calls.

To sign on to the ERA biocrust discussion group, send an email to Michael Pilarski at [email protected].

A bit on my background:

I have been fascinated by cryptobiotic crusts (the original name) for several decades and have examined hundreds of semi-arid sites in Eastern Washington State for their presence. Over the years, I have read some literature on the topic. Enough to get a basic understanding but am by no means an expert. I have no hands-on experience with biocrust restoration. I proposed an ERA biocrust study group because I want to continue my learning on this since it is of no small significance in my home bioregion.

I recently established contact with Kristina Young, the Science Moab Board Chair, and a biocrust specialist. She kindly sent me the following 3 documents. This is some of the current best overviews on the state of research and the state of biocrust restoration. I highly recommend these articles for serious students of biocrust restoration.

Kristina wrote, “As you are encountering, there is a lot of differing pieces of information about biocrust out there. The relationship between biocrust and seeds can be very complex. The relationship depends on lots of things including (but not limited to) 1. the type of biocrust 2. the type of seed 3. the soil type 4. the climate. In some cases, it may be correct to say that biocrust excludes seeds, but I think that would be the minority of cases. As it sounds like you know, the main role of biocrust is to serve as a soil stabilizer, so breaking up biocrust can lead to lots of problems with erosion and is not something I would advise.”

The articles include:

  1. “Towards a predictive framework for biocrust mediation of plant performance: A meta‐analysis.” By Caroline A. Havrilla, et al. 2019, Journal of Ecology. Volume 107, Issue 6. November 2019. Available at
  2. “OPERATIONAL MANUAL FOR BIOCRUST RESTORATION IN DRYLANDS.” By Akasha Faist, et al. 28 pages. Available at
  3. “Biological soil crusts in ecological restoration: emerging research and perspectives.” By Anita Antoninka, et al. Restoration Ecology, Volume 28, issue S2. 14 May 2020. Available at

I will mention other resources I have on the topic as time goes on.

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MICHAEL “SKEETER” PILARSKI is a life-long student of plants and earth repair. His farming career started in 2nd grade and his organic farming career began in 1972 at age 25. Michael founded Friends of the Trees Society in 1978 and took his first permaculture design course in 1982. Since 1988 he has taught 36 permaculture design courses in the US and abroad. His specialties include earth repair, agriculture, seed collecting, nursery sales, tree planting, fruit picking, permaculture, agroforestry, forestry, ethnobotany, medicinal herb growing, hoeing and wildcrafting. He has hands-on experience with over 1000 species of plants. He is a prolific gathering organizer and likes group singing.