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Recovering lost ground: effects of soil burn intensity on nutrients and ectomycorrhiza communities of ponderosa pine seedlings

Author(s): Ariel D. Cowan, Jane E. Smith, Stephen A. Fitzgerald
Year Published: 2016
Description:

Fuel accumulation and climate shifts are predicted to increase the frequency of high-severity fires in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests of central Oregon. The combustion of fuels containing large downed wood can result in intense soil heating, alteration of soil properties, and mortality of microbes. Previous studies show ectomycorrhizal fungi (EMF) improve ponderosa seedling establishment after fire but did not compare EMF communities at different levels of soil burn intensity in a field setting. For this study, soil burn intensity effects on nutrients and EMF communities were compared at Pringle Falls Experimental Forest, La Pine, Oregon. Twelve replicate sites were used, each with three treatments: high intensity soil burn from large downed wood combustion (HB), low intensity soil burn (LB), and unburned control (UB). Temperatures lethal to fungi were detected at 0-cm, 5-cm, and 10-cm depths in HB soils and 0-cm depth in LB soils. Ponderosa pine seedlings planted post-burn were harvested after four months for EMF root tip analysis. We found: (a) greater differences in soil properties and nutrients in HB soils compared to LB and UB soils; (b) no differences in EMF richness and diversity among treatments; (c) weak differences in community composition based on relative abundance between UB and either burn treatments; and (d) EMF composition in HB and LB treatments correlated with soil carbon and organic matter contents. These results support the hypothesis that the combustion of large downed wood can alter the soil environment directly beneath it. However, an EMF community similar to LB soils recolonized HB soils within one growing season. Community results from both burn treatments suggest an increase in patchy spatial distribution of EMF. We hypothesize that quick initiation of EMF recolonization is possible depending on the size of high intensity burn patches, proximity of low and unburned soil, and survival of nearby hosts. The importance of incorporating mixed fire effects in fuel management practices will help to provide EMF refugia for ponderosa pine forest regeneration.

Citation: Cowan, A.D.; Smith, J.E.; Fitzgerald, S.A. 2016. Recovering lost ground: effects of soil burn intensity on nutrients and ectomycorrhiza communities of ponderosa pine seedlings. Forest Ecology and Management. 378: 160-172
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - First Order, Fire Severity, Soil Heating, Ecological - Second Order, Plants, Soils
Ecosystem(s): Montane dry mixed-conifer forest, Ponderosa pine woodland/savanna
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 14547
Record updated: Nov 22, 2017