Last weekend the Mayberry Native Plant and Propagation Center in collaboration with Rim to Rim Restoration hosted a day of propagation appreciation that included volunteered planting of native seeds and a tour of the largest known outdoor biological soil crust operation in existence.
The propagation center is a 30-acre parcel of land along the Colorado River about 15 miles northeast of Moab surrounded by an iconic backdrop of desert mesas. The center, acquired by Rim to Rim in 2009, tests and propagates native seeds for revegetation on both public and private lands within the Colorado Plateau with the goal of benefitting wildlife, recreation and a sustainable watershed.
The property was originally a prolific peach orchard that once contained more than 700 peach trees and belonged to Dr. Paul Mayberry, Moab’s first surgeon. It is protected by an easement held and monitored by The Nature Conservancy which still allows for a small number of fruit trees to remain.
Both Mary Mayberry, wife of the late Dr. Mayberry, and Joanne Anderson, their daughter, were in attendance, enjoying refreshments, chatting with guests, and touring the soil crust operation.
“I remember spending days with my father on the tractor looking at groves of peach trees,” said Anderson as she fondly recalled her time on the property as a young girl.
Mary, in support of the restoration center said, “I think my husband would have been very happy. He wouldn’t have wanted this land to be desecrated.”
Kara Dohrenwend, Rim to Rim director and owner of Wildland Scapes, described the benefit of seed collection while volunteers planted asters in the stretch of land at the entry to the property on Highway 128. “We can increase the amount of seeds from just a few ounces to several pounds over time,” said Dohrenwend.
Mary Moran, Rim to Rim volunteer and retired biological science technician for the National Park Service, was seeding an already irrigated area under an existing tree. She said “the aster seeds were collected from Arches National Park” and they would “have a higher success rate when collected closer to the area intended for revegetation.” The multiplied seeds that will be obtained from the success of Moran’s and other volunteers’ work will eventually benefit areas within Arches.
The success of desert plants like the asters largely depends on organisms that live atop the soil. United States Geological Survey ecologist Colin Tucker and USGS biologist Natalie Day spoke to the Mayberry guests about the importance of cryptobiotic soil crusts, also known as biocrusts. Tucker referred to “biocrust” as “the living skin of the earth.”
Day further explained, “By stabilizing the soil, they (biocrusts) invite other organisms to come.”
Tucker continued to educate the audience on the challenges that climate change poses for biocrust, which hosts many different microorganisms, as well as larger organisms. “How do we deal with what we know is coming? he asked rhetorically.
“With heat, we are seeing a dramatic loss in mosses and lichens; what’s left is the cyanobacteria, which isn’t as good at mitigating the effects of water loss in the soil.”
USGS, in collaboration with Northern Arizona University and the TNC, are “bringing in crusts that can withstand hotter temperatures,” said Tucker. Crusts are obtained from hotter deserts such as the Mojave and the Sonoran.
The Wildlife Conservation Society grant through its Climate Adaptation Fund with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has made the project at Mayberry Native Plant Propagation Center possible. Guests of the Mayberry Center were able to view the vast field of growing biocrust that could ultimately benefit the ecosystems in both Castle Valley and Indian Creek, where the crusts are intended to be dispersed.