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Title: Recovery of soil microbial community structure after fire in a sagebrush-grassland ecosystem

item DANGI, SADIKSHYA - Towson University
item STAHL, PETER - University Of Wyoming
item PENDALL, ELISE - University Of Wyoming
item CLEARY, MEAGAN - University Of Wyoming
item Buyer, Jeffrey

Submitted to: Land Degradation and Development
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/7/2010
Publication Date: 3/8/2010
Citation: Dangi, S.R., Stahl, P.D., Pendall, E., Cleary, M.B., Buyer, J.S. 2010. Recovery of soil microbial community structure after fire in a sagebrush-grassland ecosystem. Land Degradation and Development. Available at

Interpretive Summary: Above-ground damage to ecosystems following fires is quite obvious, but it is much harder to assess damage to soil components of the ecosystem. Soil microbial communities are known to provide essential ecosystem services including nitrogen fixation, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, soil aggregation and erosion control, and suppression of pests and diseases. Therefore it is important to know how the below-ground portions of the ecosystem recover following a fire. In this study the recovery of the soil microbial community was studied following fire in a sagebrush-grassland system. Four similar sites were studied, with the sites 3, 7, 21, and 39 years after a fire. The fire had the most severe damage to fungi, including the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi that are important plant symbionts. However, at 7 years the microbial community had largely recovered from the fire. These results indicate that, in sagebrush-grassland ecosystems, the ecosystem can recover from fire damage in less than 10 years. These results will be useful to land managers who need to make decisions regarding uses of land following fires.

Technical Abstract: Recovery of the soil microbial community after fire in a sagebrush-grassland ecosystem was examined using a chronosequence of four sites ranging in time since fire from 3-39 years. The successional stage communities examined included Recent Burn (3 years since fire, ysf), Establishment (7 ysf), Expansion (21 ysf), and Mature (39 ysf). Aboveground standing plant biomass increased with time since disturbance to the Mature stage where sagebrush became dominant over herbaceous species. Phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analysis was used to characterize the microbial community structure. Soil microbial community productivity generally appeared to be similar to relatively undisturbed soils and the Mature site soil (39 ysf) within 7 years of fire, or by the time the site has reached the Expansion stage. Diversity of PLFA’s detected in soils, at both depths, increased from a low value of 29 at the Recent site to a high of 36 at the Establishment stage site and then decreased again at 31 at the Mature stage site. Canonical multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) and discriminant analysis (DA) indicate that there are important disparities in microbial community structure at the four sites. Fire appeared to have greatest impacts in terms of biomass production on saprophytic and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Productivity of fungi was also relatively slow to recover. Canonical multivariate analysis indicates greatest disparities in microbial community structure between the Recent and Establishment stages but greater similarity between the Recent stage and the sagebrush dominated Mature stage.