Fire frequency and severity are increasing across the western US, and post-fire recovery and effects on critical zone structure are not fully understood. Resident microbiota (bacteria and fungi) transform the majority of carbon in ecosystems, and the structure of these communities influence seedling establishment and the trajectory of vegetative recovery as well as biogeochemical cycling. We surveyed changes in microbial composition and activity after wildfire to better understand soil microbial resilience and fire ecology. Specifically, we assessed potential extracellular enzyme activities in response to fire severity across landscape position and aspect. We sampled 18 days after containment of the June 2013 Thompson Ridge Fire in the Jemez River Basin Critical Zone Observatory, across a gradient of burn severities in a mixed-conifer zero order basin. We subsampled six depths through the surface soil profile and measured potential activities of seven hydrolytic enzymes using established fluorometric techniques. Four of these enzymes hydrolyze C-rich substrates (β-glucosidase [BG], β-D-cellubiosidase [CB], xylosidase [XYL], and α-glucosidase [AG], two hydrolyze N-rich substrates N-acetyl-β-glucosaminidase [NAG] and leucine aminopeptidase [LAP]), and one hydrolyzes a P-rich substrate (acid phosphatase [PHOS]). Results showed decreased activities with depth for BG, CB, and LAP. Significantly higher potential enzyme activity was observed for convergent sites relative to planar or divergent sites across all depths sampled. Additionally, we looked at shifts in enzyme nutrient acquisition ratios that correspond with resource limitations relative to microbial stoichiometric demands. Higher acquisition potential is interpreted as greater resource allocation towards nutrient acquisition. Results showed a variance in resource acquisition potential with depth for C relative to N, with greater resources being allocated towards acquiring C at shallower depth. Conversely, greater resource acquisition potential was expended towards acquiring P relative to N and C at greater depths. These results provide a greater understanding of the microbial role in soil C and nutrient cycling following fire and offer insight into microbially mediated biogeochemical ‘hot spots’ in the landscape.
Fairbanks D., Murphy M., Frost G., Chorover J., Gallery R., Rich V. (2014): Impact of fire, landscape position, aspect, and soil depth on microbial extracellular enzyme activities in the Jemez River Basin Critical Zone Observatory. Abstract EP23B-3591 presented at 2014 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 15-19 Dec..
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.