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Keywords:

  • prescribed burning;
  • forest soil;
  • laccase;
  • soil organic matter;
  • fungi

Abstract

Repeated prescribed burning alters the biologically labile fraction of nutrients and carbon of soil organic matter (SOM). Using a long-term (30 years) repeated burning experiment where burning has been carried out at a 2- or 4-year frequency, we analysed the effect of prescribed burning on gross potential C turnover rates and phenol oxidase activity in relation to shifts in SOM composition as observed using Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy. In tandem, we assessed the genetic diversity of basidiomycete laccases. While the overall effect of burning was a decline in phenol oxidase activity, Shannon diversity and evenness of laccases was significantly higher in burned sites. Co-correspondence analysis of SOM composition and laccase operational taxonomic unit frequency data also suggested a strong correlation. While this correlation could indicate that the observed increase in laccase genetic diversity due to burning is due to increased resource diversity, a temporal replacement of the most abundant members of the assembly by an otherwise dormant pool of fungi cannot be excluded. As such, our results fit the intermediate disturbance hypothesis. Effects were stronger in plots burned in 2-year rotations, suggesting that the 4-year burn frequency may be a more sustainable practice to ensure the long-term stability of C cycling in such ecosystems.