The Sound Of Science - 'Cryptobiotic Soil'

Sep 6, 2019

SAM: Welcome to the Sound of Science on WNIJ. I’m Sam from NIU STEM Outreach.

CHRISTINE: And I’m Christine from NIU Outdoor Adventures. Ever wonder why parks and rangers insist that you stay on the trails?

SAM: I’m sure safety has a lot to do with it, but I wonder if sustainability also applies.

NIU STEM Outreach

CHRISTINE: Yes, and that goes for every ecosystem – including deserts! Deserts have a unique system called cryptobiotic soil. 

SAM: Crypto meaning hidden, and biotic meaning living so… Soil we can’t see?

CHRISTINE: It’s not all about the soil, but that’s a crucial part. Cryptobiotic soil is primarily bacteria, but we occasionally include moss and lichen in the classification. 

SAM: Bacteria are small. Even with millions of them, how do they help the ground?

CHRISTINE: They create bluish sticky tendrils. When it rains, they sink slowly into the soil. Their sticky tendrils sink with them, and the soil particles latch on. This creates a network of fairly tough soil that clumps together.

SAM: Why is clumpy earth important?

CHRISTINE: Deserts are harsh places with little vegetation. Clumpy earth, or cryptobiotic soil, helps prevent erosion by creating a crust that can’t easily be blown away by the wind. It also helps trap water and nutrients. Basically, it’s a sponge that absorbs water – helping prevent flash floods.

SAM: Let’s swing back to the beginning. Why stay on the trail? What’s wrong with going off the beaten path?

CHRISTINE: Cryptobiotic soil is fragile!  Sure, it can hold dirt and sand together, but it won’t hold up to you and your hiking boots. What’s more: It can take nearly a decade to recover!

SAM: So, follow marked trails for safety – and to keep the earth healthy. If you’re interested in outdoorsy stuff, join NIU Outdoor Adventures this fall and on their many trips and events. This has been the Sound of Science on WNIJ.

CHRISTINE: Where you learn something new every day.