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Research article2014Peer reviewed

Connectivity of litter islands remaining after a fire and unburnt forest determines the recovery of soil fauna

Zaitsev, Andrey S.; Gongalsky, Konstantin B.; Persson, Tryggve; Bengtsson, Jan


Forest wildfires can dramatically affect soil communities and reduce abundance and diversity of soil fauna. The recovery of soil animals after a fire depends both on immigration from the unburnt forest and on local survival in less-burnt spots, but the relative importance of these mechanisms is poorly known. Therefore, these factors were studied with regard to soil macrofauna and soil mites seven years after a wildfire occurring in a pine forest area with shallow soil in 2001 in central Sweden. Three replicate transects, each consisting of four plots were studied. The plots were located in (i) the unburnt forest close to the fire edge; (ii) slightly burnt patches directly attached to the unburnt forest; (iii) slightly burnt patches surrounded by bare rock but connected to the unburnt forest edge by a corridor with mostly unburnt litter and vegetation; and (iv) island patches not connected with a corridor to the unburnt forest edge. The hypothesis was that that soil animals would particularly disperse from the unburnt forest to moderately burnt plots inside a burnt area via the network of less-burnt corridors. Poor dispersers would be especially few in the island patches lacking connection to the "mainland", whereas good dispersers would be independent of gaps in connectivity. As expected, the highest abundance of both macrofauna and oribatid mites was found in the unburnt forest. Resident soil macro- and mesofauna representatives had half the abundance in the edge and corridor plots as compared to the control, but their abundance was not lower in the island plots than in the corridor plots indicating on-site survival and recovery. Mobile mesostigmatid mites did not show any significant reduction of abundance in any of the plots. The abundance of soil-dwelling oribatid mites did not differ between islands and unburnt forest, but mobile aboveground oribatids had significantly lower abundance on the islands than in the unburnt forest. The opposite was observed for aboveground and belowground oribatid mite species richness. In conclusion, belowground animals showed mainly local survival and seemed to be independent of corridors presence, whereas most aboveground and mobile macro- and mesofauna seemed to be more responsive to isolation induced by forest fires. Soil and litter corridors connecting unburnt patches inside the burnt forests with the unburnt edges were important mainly for less mobile groups of soil macrofauna. This supports the idea that there is a relatively slow process of soil ecosystem recovery and that external colonization of the burnt areas dominates over the local survival and recovery from refuges. (C) 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Forest wildfire; Corridors; Soil macrofauna; Soil mites; Oribatida; Ecosystem recovery

Published in

Applied Soil Ecology
2014, Volume: 83, pages: 101-108

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      Soil Science
      Agricultural Science

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