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

TitleRecovering lost ground: Effects of soil burn intensity on nutrients and ectomycorrhiza communities of ponderosa pine seedlings
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsCowan, AD
Secondary AuthorsSmith, JE
Tertiary AuthorsFitzgerald, SA
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Start Page160
Keywordsburn severity, Ectomycorrhizal fungi, fire, large downed wood, ponderosa pine, soil nutrients, technical reports and journal articles

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.