Long-Term Recovery of Microbial Communities in the Boreal Bryosphere Following Fire Disturbance

Nick A. Cutler*, María Arróniz-Crespo, Lorna E. Street, David L. Jones, Dominique L. Chaput, Thomas H. DeLuca

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our study used a ∼360-year fire chronosequence in northern Sweden to investigate post-fire microbial community dynamics in the boreal bryosphere (the living and dead parts of the feather moss layer on the forest floor, along with the associated biota). We anticipated systematic changes in microbial community structure and growth strategy with increasing time since fire (TSF) and used amplicon pyrosequencing to establish microbial community structure. We also recorded edaphic factors (relating to pH, C and N accumulation) and the physical characteristics of the feather moss layer. The molecular analyses revealed an unexpectedly diverse microbial community. The structure of the community could be largely explained by just two factors, TSF and pH, although the importance of TSF diminished as the forest recovered from disturbance. The microbial communities on the youngest site (TSF = 14 years) were clearly different from older locations (>100 years), suggesting relatively rapid post-fire recovery. A shift towards Proteobacterial taxa on older sites, coupled with a decline in the relative abundance of Acidobacteria, suggested an increase in resource availability with TSF. Saprotrophs dominated the fungal community. Mycorrhizal fungi appeared to decline in abundance with TSF, possibly due to changing N status. Our study provided evidence for the decadal-scale legacy of burning, with implications for boreal forests that are expected to experience more frequent burns over the course of the next century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Early online date18 Aug 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Aug 2016


  • Boreal forest
  • Climate change
  • Feather mosses
  • Microbial community structure
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Post-fire succession


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