Biological soil crusts (BSCs) are a major functional vegetation unit, covering extensive parts of drylands worldwide. Therefore, several multispectral indices have been proposed to map the spatial distribution and coverage of BSCs. BSCs are composed of poikilohydric organisms, the activity of which is sensitive to water availability. However, studies on dry and wet BSCs have seldom considered the mixed coverage gradient that is representative of actual field conditions. In this study, in situ spectral data and photographs of 136 pairs of dry and wet plots were collected to determine the influence of moisture conditions on BSC coverage detection. Then, BSC spectral reflectance and continuum removal (CR) reflectance responses to wetting were analyzed. Finally, the responses of four commonly used indices (i.e., normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI); crust index (CI); biological soil crust index (BSCI); and band depth of absorption feature after CR in the red band, (BD_red)), calculated from in situ hyperspectral data resampled to two multispectral data channels (Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2), were compared in dry and wet conditions. The results indicate that: (i) on average, the estimated BSC coverage using red-green-blue (RGB) images is 14.98% higher in wet than in dry conditions (P
< 0.001); (ii) CR reflectance features of wet BSCs are more obvious than those of dry BSCs in both red and red-edge bands; and (iii) NDVI, CI, and BSCI for BSC coverage of 0%–60% under dry and wet conditions are close to those of dry and wet bare sand, respectively. NDVI and BD_red cannot separate dead wood and BSC with low coverage. This study demonstrates that low-coverage moss-dominated BSC is not easily detected by the four indices. In the future, remote-sensing data obtained during the rainy season with red and red-edge bands should be considered to detect BSCs.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited