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Resistance of microbial and soil properties to warming treatment seven years after boreal fire

Allison, Steven D., McGuire, Krista L., Treseder, Kathleen K.
Soil biology & biochemistry 2010 v.42 no.10 pp. 1872-1878
temporal variation, carbon dioxide, mineralization, soil fungi, permafrost, boreal forests, soil temperature, air temperature, cellulose, carbon sequestration, soil fertility, soil water potential, gas emissions, forest fires, microbial activity, chitin, Alaska
Boreal forests store a large fraction of global terrestrial carbon and are susceptible to environmental change, particularly rising temperatures and increased fire frequency. These changes have the potential to drive positive feedbacks between climate warming and the boreal carbon cycle. Because few studies have examined the warming response of boreal ecosystems recovering from fire, we established a greenhouse warming experiment near Delta Junction, Alaska, seven years after a 1999 wildfire. We hypothesized that experimental warming would increase soil CO2 efflux, stimulate nutrient mineralization, and alter the composition and function of soil fungal communities. Although our treatment resulted in 1.20 °C soil warming, we found little support for our hypothesis. Only the activities of cellulose- and chitin-degrading enzymes increased significantly by 15% and 35%, respectively, and there were no changes in soil fungal communities. Warming resulted in drier soils, but the corresponding change in soil water potential was probably not sufficient to limit microbial activity. Rather, the warming response of this soil may be constrained by depletion of labile carbon substrates resulting from combustion and elevated soil temperatures in the years after the 1999 fire. We conclude that positive feedbacks between warming and the microbial release of soil carbon are weak in boreal ecosystems lacking permafrost. Since permafrost-free soils underlie 45–60% of the boreal zone, our results should be useful for modeling the warming response during recovery from fire in a large fraction of the boreal forest.