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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Effects of Soil Abiotic and Biotic Factors on Tree Seedling Regeneration Following a Boreal Forest Wildfire

Ibanez, Theresa S.; Wardle, David A.; Gundale, Michael J.; Nilsson, Marie-Charlotte

Abstract

Wildfire disturbance is important for tree regeneration in boreal ecosystems. A considerable amount of literature has been published on how wildfires affect boreal forest regeneration. However, we lack understanding about how soil-mediated effects of fire disturbance on seedlings occur via soil abiotic properties versus soil biota. We collected soil from stands with three different severities of burning (high, low and unburned) and conducted two greenhouse experiments to explore how seedlings of tree species (Betula pendula, Pinus sylvestris and Picea abies) performed in live soils and in sterilized soil inoculated by live soil from each of the three burning severities. Seedlings grown in live soil grew best in unburned soil. When sterilized soils were reinoculated with live soil, seedlings of P. abies and P. sylvestris grew better in soil from low burn severity stands than soil from either high severity or unburned stands, demonstrating that fire disturbance may favor post-fire regeneration of conifers in part due to the presence of soil biota that persists when fire severity is low or recovers quickly post-fire. Betula pendula did not respond to soil biota and was instead driven by changes in abiotic soil properties following fire. Our study provides strong evidence that high fire severity creates soil conditions that are adverse for seedling regeneration, but that low burn severity promotes soil biota that stimulates growth and potential regeneration of conifers. It also shows that species-specific responses to abiotic and biotic soil characteristics are altered by variation in fire severity. This has important implications for tree regeneration because it points to the role of plant-soil-microbial feedbacks in promoting successful establishment, and potentially successional trajectories and species dominance in boreal forests in the future as fire regimes become increasingly severe through climate change.

Keywords

Abiotic and biotic soil characteristics; Betula pendula; Boreal forest; Burn severity; Climate change; Picea abies; Pinus sylvestris; Plant-soil interactions; Tree seedling regeneration; Wildfire

Published in

Ecosystems
2022, volume: 25, number: 2, pages: 471-487
Publisher: SPRINGER

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management

UKÄ Subject classification

Soil Science
Forest Science

Publication Identifiers

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-021-00666-0

URI (permanent link to this page)

https://res.slu.se/id/publ/112973