There have been few studies concerning cyanotoxins in desert environments, compared with the multitude of studies of cyanotoxins in aquatic environments. However, cyanobacteria are important primary producers in desert environments, where after seasonal rains they can grow rapidly both stabilising and fertilising arid habitats. Samples of cyanobacteria from wadis - dry, ephemeral river beds - and sabkha - supertidal salt flats in Qatar were analysed for the presence of microcystins, nodularin, anatoxin-a, cylindrospermopsin and anatoxin-a(S). Microcystins were detected by HPLC-PDA and ELISA at concentrations between 1.5 and 53.7 ng g(-1) dry wt of crust. PCR products for the mycD gene for microcystin biosynthesis were detected after amplification of DNA from desert crust samples at two out of three sample sites. The presence of anatoxin-a(S) was also indicated by acetylcholine esterase inhibition assay. As a function of area of desert crust, microcystin concentrations were between 3 and 56 mu g m(-2). Based on the concentration of microcystins detected in crust, with reference to the published inhalation NOAEL and LOAEL values via nasal spray inhalation of purified microcystin-LR in aqueous solution, and the amount of dust potentially inhaled by a person from these dried crusts, the dose of microcystins could exceed a calculated TDI value of 1-2 ng kg(-1) day(-1) for an average adult. The presence of microcystins, and potentially of anatoxin-a(S), in desert crusts has important implications for human health. Further studies are required to monitor desert dust storms for the presence of cyanotoxins. An understanding of the risks of inhaling particles containing cyanotoxins is also warranted. (C) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.