Wildfire-resistant biological soil crusts and fire-induced loss of soil stability in Palouse prairies, USA

Matthew A Bowker, Jayne Belnap, Roger Rosentreter, Bernadette Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

33 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Frequent low-intensity fires are a natural component of the ecology of the Palouse prairies of northwestern North America. To study the effects of fire upon biological soil crusts (BSCs) occurring in these grasslands, we sampled three burned (in 2000) sites and three unburned sites in the Hell's Canyon area (OR, USA) ∼1 year post-fire. We measured vascular plant and BSC cover, soil microbe pigmentation, texture and chemistry, and soil surface physical properties (stability and rugosity). Festuca idahoensis was two times more abundant in unburned plots (P=0.0006), and vascular plant and litter cover were generally higher in unburned plots. At the community scale, there was no difference in the lichen and moss species composition, suggesting much less drastic effects of fire on BSCs than reported in other systems. Soil surface stability (measured using slake value) was significantly lower in burned sites than unburned sites (median value=5 versus 6, P=0.008), a result which is likely due to the greater density of lichens and mosses encountered in the unburned plots. Soil microbe pigmentation was lower in burned plots (P=0.03), suggesting that the biomass of photosynthetic microbes had decreased; however, the presence of intra- and extracellular pigments in burned soils indicates that microorganisms were not eradicated. Pigments most strongly associated with cyanobacteria were more abundant in unburned sites, suggesting that cyanobacteria may have been more strongly impacted by the fire than other BSC components. Composition of nutrients and surface rugosity did not differ significantly between treatments. We hypothesize that Palouse prairie soil crusts are relatively resistant to wildfire because of low fire intensity and their occupation of space away from the vascular plant fuel load.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-52
Number of pages12
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
Volume26
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2004

Fingerprint

soil crusts
soil crust
wildfires
wildfire
prairies
prairie
Soil
soil microorganisms
vascular plants
fire intensity
vascular plant
soil
pigmentation
lichens
mosses and liverworts
Cyanobacteria
lichen
moss
Festuca idahoensis
pigments

Keywords

  • Biological soil crusts
  • Fire ecology
  • Grasslands
  • Pigments
  • Soil stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Soil Science
  • Ecology

Cite this

Wildfire-resistant biological soil crusts and fire-induced loss of soil stability in Palouse prairies, USA. / Bowker, Matthew A; Belnap, Jayne; Rosentreter, Roger; Graham, Bernadette.

In: Applied Soil Ecology, Vol. 26, No. 1, 05.2004, p. 41-52.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Bowker, Matthew A ; Belnap, Jayne ; Rosentreter, Roger ; Graham, Bernadette. / Wildfire-resistant biological soil crusts and fire-induced loss of soil stability in Palouse prairies, USA. In: Applied Soil Ecology. 2004 ; Vol. 26, No. 1. pp. 41-52.
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