Post-Fire Spatial Patterns of Soil Nitrogen Mineralization and Microbial Abundance

Erica A.H. Smithwick, Kusum J. Naithani, Teri C. Balser, William H. Romme, Monica G. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Stand-replacing fires influence soil nitrogen availability and microbial community composition, which may in turn mediate post-fire successional dynamics and nutrient cycling. However, fires create patchiness at both local and landscape scales and do not result in consistent patterns of ecological dynamics. The objectives of this study were to (1) quantify the spatial structure of microbial communities in forest stands recently affected by stand-replacing fire and (2) determine whether microbial variables aid predictions of in situ net nitrogen mineralization rates in recently burned stands. The study was conducted in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) and Engelmann spruce/subalpine fir (Picea engelmannii/Abies lasiocarpa) forest stands that burned during summer 2000 in Greater Yellowstone (Wyoming, USA). Using a fully probabilistic spatial process model and Bayesian kriging, the spatial structure of microbial lipid abundance and fungi-to-bacteria ratios were found to be spatially structured within plots two years following fire (for most plots, autocorrelation range varied from 1.5 to 10.5 m). Congruence of spatial patterns among microbial variables, in situ net N mineralization, and cover variables was evident. Stepwise regression resulted in significant models of in situ net N mineralization and included variables describing fungal and bacterial abundance, although explained variance was low (R2<0.29). Unraveling complex spatial patterns of nutrient cycling and the biotic factors that regulate it remains challenging but is critical for explaining post-fire ecosystem function, especially in Greater Yellowstone, which is projected to experience increased fire frequencies by mid 21st Century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere50597
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 30 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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