My research began with an environmental or ecological perspective….examining the larger home within which the biology department at Ft. Lewis sits. My goal was to find the fundamental web that tied Ft. Lewis College to the larger area. I began to wonder about the fragile ecosystem of the Colorado Plateau, its wildness and the biological foundation that holds the Colorado Plateau together.
Here in the Colorado Plateau, we find something remarkable: a web of life…humble crusts, sometimes known as cryptogamic or cryptobiotic crusts, which efficiently convert extraordinary amounts of atmospheric nitrogen into a form easily used by plants. Crusts play an enormous role in this fragile environment. Because they are concentrated in the top 1 to 4 mm of soil, they primarily affect processes that occur at the land surface or soil-air interface. These include soil stability and erosion, atmospheric nitrogen-fixation, nutrient contributions to plants, soil-plant-water relations, infiltration, seedling germination, and plant growth.