Role of fire and urbanization in plant-soil linkages and feedbacks. Ongoing studies on the ecological and evolutionary consequences of disturbance
Disturbance is a ubiquitous element in all ecological communities and ecosystems and shapes soils and soil processes, as well as the ecology and evolution of plant communities in terrestrial biomes worldwide. Two disturbances, fire and urbanization, are having profound impacts on ecosystems globally. Both fire and urbanization alter biotic and abiotic factors that, post-disturbance, have profound influences on soil communities and processes and plant functional traits and the re-assembly and succession of plant communities. Because fire and urbanization often occur on different spatial and temporal scales, rarely do circumstances allow for the empirical examination of interactions between these two disturbance regimes, especially in biodiversity hotspots of high conservation value. Such an opportunity arose in November 2016 when a wildfire began in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) and spread to the town of Gatlinburg, TN, creating burned and unburned zones both within the National Park and in the adjacent wildland-urban interface (WUI). This tragic and unexpected event provided a rare opportunity to examine how soils and plant communities respond to fire and urbanization, individually and synergistically. Thus, the overarching goal of this research is to use a unique set of circumstances to advance understanding of the effects of fire and urbanization on soil communities and processes as well as plant functional traits and community assembly. We collect plant, soil and microbial data twice a year from 20 sites in the GSMNP and neighboring Gatlinburg and will continue to monitor ecosystem recovery post-fire.
Publications from this work so far:
Beals, K.K., A.E. Scearce, A.T. Swystun & J.A. Schweitzer. 2022. Belowground mechanisms for oak regeneration: Interactions among fire, soil microbes and plant community alter oak seedling growth. Forest Ecol & Management 503: 119774
Kivlin, S.N., V.R. Harpe, J.H. Turner, J.A. Moore, L.C. Moorhead, K.K. Beals, M.M. Hubert, M. Papes, & J.A. Schweitzer. 2021. Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal response to fire and urbanization in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Elementa 9:00037
See recent coverage of Kendall’s fire-soil microbial work: https://research.utk.edu/oried/2022/03/21/researchers-study-effects-of-wildfire-on-soil-microbial-communities/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Read%20more%20about%20Schweitzer&utm_campaign=Catalyst%2C%20March%2023