South African Journal of Science
On-line version ISSN 1996-7489
To date, the biological soil crusts (BSCs) of southern Africa are thought to be dominated mainly by cyanobacteria, with the exception of the lichen fields of the Namib Desert. Because soil microorganisms can physically modify, maintain or create habitat for other organisms -including soil biota and plants - they have been considered ecosystem engineers. Therefore, the presence of BSCs may be a good indicator of ecosystem resilience. Although BSCs are found throughout the world, recent work has suggested that the absence of BSCs in the fynbos of South Africa may be as a result of the inherent acidity of soils. We surveyed one area within the fynbos biome for the presence of BSCs and determined the relative cover of vegetation and different crust types. We found a widespread presence (up to 80% of surface soil) of BSC communities in fynbos soils. We conclude that soil acidity may not be a constraining factor in the development of BSCs in fynbos soils and that previous reports on the absence of BSCs in fynbos soils may have been based on insufficient field observations. We encourage future studies in this region in order to determine the currently unexplored spatial distribution of soil microbial communities and the taxonomic composition of microorganisms in fynbos soils.