UC Berkeley features 3DMossers on their news site

3DMoss PI Kirsten Fisher and graduate student Jenna Ekwealor recently completed a project they started back in 2014. After finding that Syntrichia caninervis can survive completely under quartz rocks, they set out to compare the abiotic conditions and community composition of the unique Mojave hypolithic moss habitat with that of the adjacent soil surface. The article on this project was published in PLOS ONE and Bob Sanders of UC Berkeley wrote up a great story covering it on the UC Berkeley News page.

Be sure to also check out the video in the supplementary material of the open access PLOS ONE article. In addition to Kirsten Fisher, you can also hear the voices of 3DMoss PIs Brent Mishler and Llo Stark!

3D Moss project holds an extensive three-day biocrust public workshop in the Mojave Desert

3D Moss project holds an extensive three-day biocrust public workshop in the Mojave Desert
The workshop, entitled “Charismatic Microflora: The Ecology and Management of Biological Soil Crusts,” was held February 20–23, 2020 at the Desert Studies Center, Zzyzx, California, in the Mojave National Preserve. 
The workshop was led by crust experts Matt Bowker, Tom Carlberg, Kirsten Fisher, Brent Mishler, and Mandy Slate, and was funded by the NSF grant, with logistical coordination by the Jepson Herbarium (UC Berkeley). The workshop combined classroom lectures with hands-on activities at the microscope, and visits to the field. Basic questions addressed include: What is a biocrust? What are biocrusts composed of? How are biocrust organisms identified? Where are biocrusts found? How do the organisms in biocrusts manage to survive and reproduce in such a seemingly harsh environment? What role do biocrusts play in ecosystems? How can biocrusts be managed?
The diverse group of 32 participants included land managers, consultants, agency botanists, ecologists and amateur plant enthusiasts. Shared meals and evening discussions allowed a wide-ranging exchange of knowledge about both basic science and applications to conservation and restoration of soil biocrusts. Here are a few pictures of group activities and some of the many charismatic crust organisms seen.

Biocrust Workshop at the 15th Biennial Conference of Science & Management on the Colorado Plateau & Southwest Region

Northern Arizona University (NAU) and University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) 3D Mossers led a full day education & outreach workshop at the 15th Biennial Conference of Science & Management on the Colorado Plateau & Southwest Region at NAU.

Check out the photo album for a taste of workshop activities! Theresa Clark of Llo Stark’s lab at UNLV led a biocrust organism microscope session. Cristina Rengifo of Matt Bowker’s lab at NAU demonstrated seed retention by mossy crusts with a hair dryer. Anita Antoninka, also of NAU, highlighted a learning activity about climate change that she developed with a 6th grade teacher. And finally, Matt Bowker gave a Biocrust 101 lecture and a module titled ‘Holding the Place in Place’ where he demonstrated how to make a low tech experiment on the role of biocrusts in erosion resistance using a Herrick’s soil aggregate stability kit. Many workshop participants were from the Sonoran McDowell preserve, a city funded nature reserve near Phoenix and all participated enthusiastically and seemed to enjoy the workshop!

Biocrust workshop for middle schoolers

Jenna & fellow Mishler Lab grad student Ixchel Gonzalez led a workshop at the Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) workshop. EYH is a STEM conference for middle-school girls in the Bay Area. They attend a full day conference complete with keynote speakers and hands-on science, technology, engineering, & mathematics workshops.

The workshop was called “The Living Skin of the Earth.” In it the girls learned about the importance of biocrust communities, learned to recognize major organisms in them, and experimented to test the soil aggregate stability of different biocrust samples. They tested the hypothesis that increasing functional group diversity in biocrust communities results in increasing soil aggregate stability.

Most students found crust A to be bryophyte dominated, with lichens present; B to be lichen dominated, and C to be filamentous cyanobacteria dominated. Sample D was a most often categorized as bare soil but some students found evidence of filamentous cyanobacteria in it, too.

Crust types were submerged for 4 minutes then dunked 5 times to compare aggregate stability.

 

Students followed a modified version of the USDA slake test guidelines to assess aggregate stability in their soil samples. I was worried the students would find the stability classes and descriptions daunting but they seemed to do alright with it! They understood well enough the concept of giving the crusts a ‘grade’ based on how well the soil held together.

We used google sheets for students to enter their results and auto-generate a plot, eventually combining all the groups from each of the three workshop sections of the day. We then revealed to them what we found to be the dominant organisms in the four crust types, but stressed that even within those groups there will be variation (i.e, not all mosses are the same!). We used the variability in the bar chart to discuss variation in science and the need for repetition and large ‘sample sizes.’ The results, don’t seem to show any clear pattern among the aggregate stability of the dominant organisms. Nonetheless, it does seem clear that presence of any of these major organisms results in much higher aggregate stability than bare soil.

Bar chart of all workshop groups combined. A lot of variability in the class selection but a clear increase in soil aggregate when any major biocrust functional groups are present, compared to bare soil.

We used google sheets for students to enter their results and auto-generate a plot, eventually combining all the groups from each of the three workshop sections of the day. We then revealed to them what we found to be the dominant organisms in the four crust types, but stressed that even within those groups there will be variation (i.e, not all mosses are the same!). We used the variability in the bar chart to discuss variation in science and the need for repetition and large ‘sample sizes.’ The results, don’t seem to show any clear pattern among the aggregate stability of the dominant organisms. Nonetheless, it does seem clear that presence of any of these major organisms results in much higher aggregate stability than bare soil.

Ixchel (left) and Jenna (right) happy after a successful workshop!

The workshop was a lot of fun and I think it went well for a first pass! We will be making some small changes to it and hopefully running it again and making it available for educators to use real soon. We call it a success!


Favorite quotes of the day:

“OKAY, this exciting, I think that one has cyanobacteria, I saw the danglies!”

and:

“OOOH, I think this is a dormant plant because it has leaves!” ♥

Moss Hunting in the Andes

UNLV doctoral student, Theresa Clark, recently traveled to Argentina to co-instruct a biocrust outreach workshop. While on a field trip she did some moss hunting and spotted a species of Syntrichia high in the Andes Mountains! This population was looking rather stressed (red leaf tissue), perhaps from recent frost-desiccation events, or perhaps from over-exposure to radiation during unexpected decreases in winter snow pack, which leaves these cushions exposed to additional solar radiation when they would otherwise be protected under at least a thin layer of snow during the winter.