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Review article2016Peer reviewed

Why are forest fires generally neglected in soil fauna research? A mini-review

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


Climate change, unpredictable dry spells and human population growth are expected to increase the frequency of forest fires. Forest fires induce damage on soil ecosystems and seriously compromise their functionality and provision of ecosystem services. They reduce diversity in many soil organism groups, although they also support flora and fauna dependent on fires. Fires disrupt in the cycling of nutrients, and have been argued to threaten the sustainability of forest biomes. However, despite these potentially large effects on soil ecosystems, a literature survey on the forest fire effects on soil fauna demonstrated that the number of publications on this topic between 1979 and 2013 has been surprisingly low compared with studies of other kinds of disturbances. A poll conducted among soil ecologists who actually studied forest fires revealed that more than 50% of the findings about fire effects on soil ecosystems are unlikely to ever be published.The aim of this review was to discover and structure the reasons why forest fires are often neglected by soil zoologists and ecologists and to identify the major problems which deter soil zoologists from this area of research and from publishing obtained results. We show that forest fires are harder to study than many other types of disturbances. Fires are largely unpredictable and are often unique, which makes it difficult to apply statistically robust sampling plans and select proper controls. Spatial heterogeneity of fire intensity and soil fauna distribution complicate the resulting picture. Moreover, high variability of soil biota in time and space, and complicating effects of multiple fires make the results of such studies hard to interpret. We propose several approaches, which may help to document biodiversity and functional changes in soil communities affected by fire more effectively. These include prescribed burnings, indoor and outdoor experiments and meta-analyses of large datasets, including unpublished ones. We further justify the need for closer coordination of researchers to solve the "file drawer problem" for the unpublished data on soil biota shifts in response to forest fires. (C) 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Forest; Soil fauna; Burning; Soil foodweb functioning; Ecosystem disturbances

Published in

Applied Soil Ecology
2016, Volume: 98, pages: 261-271 Publisher: ELSEVIER SCIENCE BV

      SLU Authors

      • Sustainable Development Goals

        SDG13 Climate action
        SDG15 Life on land

        UKÄ Subject classification

        Soil Science
        Forest Science

        Publication identifier


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