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Soil microbial responses to fire and interacting global change factors in a California annual grassland

Kathryn M. Docherty, Teri C. Balser, Brendan J. M. Bohannan and Jessica L. M. Gutknecht
Biogeochemistry
Vol. 109, No. 1/3 (July 2012), pp. 63-83
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41490545
Page Count: 21
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Soil microbial responses to fire and interacting global change factors in a California annual grassland
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Abstract

Wildfire in California annual grasslands is an important ecological disturbance and ecosystem control. Regional and global climate changes that affect aboveground biomass will alter fire-related nutrient loading and promote increased frequency and severity of fire in these systems. This can have longterm impacts on soil microbial dynamics and nutrient cycling, particularly in N-limited systems such as annual grasslands. We examined the effects of a lowseverity fire on microbial biomass and specific microbial lipid biomarkers over 3 years following a fire at the Jasper Ridge Global Change Experiment. We also examined the impact of fire on the abundance of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB), specifically Nitrosospira Cluster 3a ammonia-oxidizers, and nitrification rates 9 months post-fire. Finally, we examined the interactive effects of fire and three other global change factors (N-deposition, precipitation and CO₂) on plant biomass and soil microbial communities for three growing seasons after fire. Our results indicate that a low-severity fire is associated with earlier season primary productivity and higher soil-NH₄₊ concentrations in the first growing season following fire. Belowground productivity and total microbial biomass were not influenced by fire. Diagnostic microbial lipid biomarkers, including those for Gram-positive bacteria and Gram-negative bacteria, were reduced by fire 9-and 21-months post-fire, respectively. All effects of fire were indiscernible by 33-months post-fire, suggesting that above and belowground responses to fire do not persist in the long-term and that these grassland communities are resilient to fire disturbance. While N-deposition increased soil NH₄⁺, and thus available NH₃, AOB abundance, nitrification rates and Cluster 3a AOB, similar increases in NH₃ in the fire plots did not affect AOB or nitrification. We hypothesize that this difference in response to N-addition involves a mediation of P-limitation as a result of fire, possibly enhanced by increased plant competition and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi-plant associations after fire.

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