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The stoichiometric signature of high-frequency fire in forest floor food webs

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Butler, O. M., Lewis, T., Maunsell, S. C., Rezaei Rashti, M., Elser, J. J., Mackey, B. and Chen, C. (2021) The stoichiometric signature of high-frequency fire in forest floor food webs. Ecological Monographs, 91 (4). e1477. ISSN 0012-9615

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Article Link: https://doi.org/10.1002/ecm.1477

Publisher URL: https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ecm.1477


Fire regimes are shifting under climate change. Decadal-scale shifts in fire regime can disrupt the biogeochemical cycling of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) within forest ecosystems, but the full extent of these disruptions is unknown. It is also unclear whether these disruptions have consequences for the ecological characteristics (e.g., biomass, abundance, and composition) of microbial and invertebrate communities, which together comprise the majority of terrestrial biodiversity and underpin many ecosystem processes. The theoretical framework of ecological stoichiometry has great potential in this context, but it has rarely been used to develop an integrated understanding of the biogeochemical and ecological effects of altered fire regime across trophic levels. Using one of the world’s longest-running fire experiments, located in Queensland, Australia, we carried out a comprehensive investigation into the stoichiometric consequences of a decadal-scale divergence in prescribed fire frequency and their links to coinciding changes in various structural characteristics of forest floor microbial and invertebrate communities. Forty-three years of biennial burning led to significantly N-depleted and/or P-enriched stoichiometry in soil, leaf litter, leaf litter-associated microbial biomass, and certain groups of invertebrates (significant effect sizes ranging 27–36%), although total invertebrate community stoichiometry was unaffected. Microbial biomass was 42% lower in biennially burned soils. Invertebrate community composition differed between fire regime treatments on some sampling dates, but fire regime did not have consistent effects on invertebrate biomass of abundance. Microbial biomass and the abundances of some invertebrate taxa were depressed at particularly low and/or high resource N:P, consistent with a coupling of these variables to the stoichiometric effects of decadal-scale fire regime. Litter transplants likewise indicated that some invertebrate abundances were sensitive to litter properties over twelve months. Together, our results indicate that long-term changes in fire regime can decouple the within-ecosystem cycling of N and P, with N and P cycling growing more and less conservative, respectively, under high-frequency fire in a way that propagates throughout forest floor food webs. Our study provides new insights into the coupled biogeochemical and ecological responses of forest ecosystems to novel fire regimes and establishes a basis for a stoichiometric framework for fire ecology.

Item Type:Article
Business groups:Horticulture and Forestry Science
Subjects:Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Agricultural ecology (General)
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Agriculture and the environment
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Conservation of natural resources
Forestry > Research. Experimentation
Forestry > Forestry management
Live Archive:26 Jul 2021 06:54
Last Modified:12 Jan 2022 02:06

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