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Fire modifies plant–soil feedbacks

February 15, 2023

Although plant–soil feedbacks (interactions between plants and soils, often mediated by soil microbes, abbreviated as PSFs) are widely known to influence patterns of plant diversity at local and landscape scales, these interactions are rarely examined in the context of important environmental factors. Resolving the roles of environmental factors is important because the environmental context may alter PSF patterns by modifying the strength or even direction of PSFs for certain species. One important environmental factor that is increasing in scale and frequency with climate change is fire, though the influence of fire on PSFs remains essentially unexamined. By changing microbial community composition, fire may alter the microbes available to colonize the roots of plants and thus seedling growth post-fire. This has potential to change the strength and/or direction of PSFs, depending on how such changes in microbial community composition occur and the plant species with which the microbes interact. We examined how a recent fire altered PSFs of two leguminous, nitrogen-fixing tree species in Hawaiʻi. For both species, growing in conspecific soil resulted in higher plant performance (as measured by biomass production) than growing in heterospecific soil. This pattern was mediated by nodule formation, an important process for growth for legume species. Fire weakened PSFs for these species and therefore pairwise PSFs, which were significant in unburned soils, but were nonsignificant in burned soils. Theory suggests that positive PSFs such as those found in unburned sites would reinforce the dominance of species where they are locally dominant. The change in pairwise PSFs with burn status shows PSF-mediated dominance might diminish after fire. Our results demonstrate that fire can modify PSFs by weakening the legume-rhizobia symbiosis, which may alter local competitive dynamics between two canopy dominant tree species. These findings illustrate the importance of considering environmental context when evaluating the role of PSFs for plants.

Publication Year 2023
Title Fire modifies plant–soil feedbacks
DOI 10.1002/ecy.3994
Authors Christopher Warneke, Stephanie G. Yelenik, Lars Brudvig
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology
Index ID 70246795
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center