Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 150–160 | Cite as

Impact of global climate change and fire on the occurrence and function of understorey legumes in forest ecosystems

SOILS, SEC 2 • GLOBAL CHANGE, ENVIRON RISK ASSESS, SUSTAINABLE LAND USE • Review ARTICLE

Abstract

Introduction

The objective of this review was to provide a better understanding of how global climate change and fire influence the occurrence of understorey legumes and thereby biological nitrogen (N) fixation rates in forest ecosystems. Legumes are interesting models since they represent an interface between the soil, plant, and microbial compartments, and are directly linked to nutrient cycles through their ability to fix N. As such, they are likely to be affected by environmental changes.

Result and discussion

Biological N fixation has been shown to increase under enriched CO2 conditions, but is constrained by the availability of phosphorus and water. Climate change can also influence the species composition of legumes and their symbionts through warming, altered rainfall patterns, or changes in soil physicochemistry, which could modify the effectiveness of the symbiosis. Additionally, global climate change may increase the occurrence and intensity of forest wildfires thereby further influencing the distribution of legumes. The establishment of leguminous species is generally favored by fire, as is N2 fixation. This fixed N could therefore replenish the N lost through volatilization during the fire. However, fire may also generate shifts in the associated microbial community which could affect the outcome of the symbiosis.

Conclusion

Understorey legumes are important functional species, and even when they cannot reasonably be expected to reestablish the nutrient balance in forest soils, they may be used as indicators to monitor nutrient fluxes and the response of forest ecosystems to changing environmental conditions. This would be helpful to accurately model ecosystem N budgets, and since N is often a limiting factor to plant growth and a major constraint on C storage in ecosystems, would allow us to assess more precisely the potential of these forests for C sequestration.

Keywords

Fire Global climate change Nitrogen fixation Rhizobia Understorey legumes 

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© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Futures Centre and School of Biomolecular and Physical SciencesGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia

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