Wildfires are increasing in size and severity across the western United States with impacts on regional biogeochemical cycling. The resiliency of resident soil microbial communities determines rates of nutrient transformations as well as forest structure and recovery. Redox conditions in soil determine metabolic activities of microorganisms, which first consume oxygen and a succession of alternative terminal electron acceptors to support growth and metabolism using a variety of carbon sources. Controls on redox zonation are largely unknown in dominantly oxic soils, and microbial community adaptation and response to fluctuations in redox potential in a sub-alpine forested post-disturbance catchment has not been studied. Previous work has shown that fluctuating or rising water tables result in redox-dynamic sites, which can be ‘hot spots’ of biogeochemical activity depending on landscape position. Fire-induced tree mortality results in altered hydrologic flow paths and decreased evapotranspiration, leading to potential for intensified hot spot activity. We are testing such coupling of microbial activity with fluctuations in redox status using field measurements and laboratory incubation experiments. The 2013 Thompson Ridge Fire in the Jemez River Basin (NM) Critical Zone Observatory provides a highly-contextualized opportunity to examine how disturbance regime affects changes in soil microbial community dynamics and fluctuations in reduction-oxidation potential (as quantified by continuous CZO measurements of O2, CO2 and Eh as a function of soil depth and landscape location). We hypothesize that areas of depositional convergence in the catchment, which have been shown to exhibit more reducing conditions, will host microbial communities that are better adapted to fluctuating redox conditions and exhibit a greater diversity in functional capabilities. In these mixed conifer forests we find shifts in redox potential status in relation to depth and topography where more reducing conditions typically occur in convergent zones and at depth. These results highlight the significance of fluctuating oxygen-depleted zones in aerobic soils on microbial community activity and structure, linking community response to larger scale ecosystem processes.
Fairbanks D., Green K., Murphy M., Shepard C., Chorover J., Rich V., Gallery R. (2015): Effects of redox fluctuations on microbial community ecology post-wildfire in a high elevation mixed-conifer catchment in northern New Mexico. Abstract B23C-0627 presented at 2015 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 14-18 Dec..
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.