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Assessing the contribution of soil faunal complexity to ecosystem services after restoration with thinning and fire

Author(s): Anita Antoninka, Kara Gibson
Year Published: 2021

While managed fire often produces clear changes in aboveground functional diversity, we know little about how fire affects belowground fauna and their mediation of biogeochemical processes. Because soil micro- and mesofauna, particularly nematodes, collembolans and mites, are significant contributors to nutrient and carbon cycling in forest systems, understanding how managed fire changes soil faunal assemblages and their contributions to ecosystem function is important. We successfully manipulated soil faunal complexity over two growing seasons in field mesocosms installed in thinned/burned and untreated control management units within a second-growth ponderosa pine forest at Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico. The method we developed was designed to minimize treatment side effects while allowing repeated internal measurements of mesocosms, and it should aid future field investigations of faunal communities. These studies are sorely needed, both to illuminate the roles of soil fauna in forests and to adequately assess forest management impacts on soil ecological functions. Five years post-fire, densities and species richness of microarthropods >300 μm were markedly reduced in mesocosms within the thinned/burned unit relative to the untreated control unit. However, we did not find evidence that faunal complexity influenced fungal community composition, nitrogen mineralization, or soil organic matter formation in either forest management unit. Decomposition appeared to be affected by faunal complexity only within the thinned/burned unit, despite reduced faunal complexity in that unit. We speculate that the biotic and abiotic context of faunal complexity may be more important for modulating decomposition than faunal complexity per se, or that abundance of fauna must be severely reduced before decomposition effects are evident in this system.

Citation: Antoninka A, and Gibson K. 2021. Assessing the contribution of soil faunal complexity to ecosystem services after restoration with thinning and fire. Final Report for Joint Fire Science Program Project ID: 18-1-01-49, 49p.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Soils, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects, Prescribed Fire-use treatments
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Technical Report or White Paper
NRFSN number: 23470
Record updated: Sep 1, 2021