Soil Microbial Community Responses After Amendment with Thermally Altered Pinus radiata Needles

Erinne Stirling, Lynne M. Macdonald, Ronald J. Smernik, Timothy R. Cavagnaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Post-fire litter layers are composed of leaves and woody debris that predominantly fall during or soon after the fire event. These layers are distinctly different to pre-fire litters due to their common origin and deposition time. However, heterogeneity can arise from the variable thermal conditions in the canopy during fire. Therefore, in this study, we used thermally altered pine needles (heated to 40 °C, 150 °C, 260 °C and 320 °C for 1 h) in a laboratory incubation study for 43 days. These samples were measured for respiration throughout and extracted for DNA at the experiment’s end; soil ribosomal RNA was analysed using Illumina sequencing (16S and internal transcribed spacer amplicons). The addition of pine needles heated to 40 °C or 150 °C caused a substantial shift in community structure, decreased alpha diversity and significantly increased soil respiration relative to the control treatment. In contrast, pine needles heated to 260 °C or 320 °C had little effect on microbial community structure or soil respiration. These results indicate that highly thermally altered needles are not microbially decomposed during the first 43 days of exposure and therefore that biomass temperature may have significant effects on post-fire litter decomposition and carbon flux. This research outlines an important knowledge gap in forest fire responses that may affect post-fire carbon emission estimates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-419
Number of pages11
JournalMicrobial Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioinformatics analyses
  • Fire ecology
  • Forest soil
  • Modelled soil respiration
  • rRNA


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