- Biogenic soil crusts (BSCs), consisting of different combinations of mosses, lichens, liverworts, fungi and cyanobacteria, are a widespread phenomenon in arid and semi-arid environments. BSCs are found throughout those areas unaffected by grazing and other anthropogenic activities. Current economic conditions in the newly Independent Central Asian States favor the development of BSCs, which may significantly influence plant communities. The data from 40-years of field observations in a protected area in the Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan, together with a sequence of aerial photographs of the same area may contribute to the study of the establishment of BSCs and understanding their role in vegetation communities. The fenced-off Karrykul area can serve as a model for the current processes in the vast desert areas in Central Asia, which are underused due to the financial constraints. It is hypothesized that after some 15 years, the role of BSCs changes from a positive (rehabilitating) effect on the first stages of protection, to a negative effect on the structure and biomass of vegetation communities. Therefore, undergrazing, as well as overgrazing, should be considered as a desertification factor.