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Long-Term Recovery of Microbial Communities in the Boreal Bryosphere Following Fire Disturbance

A Correction to this article was published on 08 July 2019

This article has been updated


Our study used a ∼360-year fire chronosequence in northern Sweden to investigate post-fire microbial community dynamics in the boreal bryosphere (the living and dead parts of the feather moss layer on the forest floor, along with the associated biota). We anticipated systematic changes in microbial community structure and growth strategy with increasing time since fire (TSF) and used amplicon pyrosequencing to establish microbial community structure. We also recorded edaphic factors (relating to pH, C and N accumulation) and the physical characteristics of the feather moss layer. The molecular analyses revealed an unexpectedly diverse microbial community. The structure of the community could be largely explained by just two factors, TSF and pH, although the importance of TSF diminished as the forest recovered from disturbance. The microbial communities on the youngest site (TSF = 14 years) were clearly different from older locations (>100 years), suggesting relatively rapid post-fire recovery. A shift towards Proteobacterial taxa on older sites, coupled with a decline in the relative abundance of Acidobacteria, suggested an increase in resource availability with TSF. Saprotrophs dominated the fungal community. Mycorrhizal fungi appeared to decline in abundance with TSF, possibly due to changing N status. Our study provided evidence for the decadal-scale legacy of burning, with implications for boreal forests that are expected to experience more frequent burns over the course of the next century.

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Change history

  • 08 July 2019

    The original version of this article contained an error in the Molecular Analysis subsection of the Methods.

  • 08 July 2019

    The original version of this article contained an error in the Molecular Analysis subsection of the Methods.


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We are grateful for the exhaustive comments provided by three anonymous reviewers. This work was funded by a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) grant to T.H.D. (ref. NE/I027150/1) and grants from the Royal Geographical Society (ref. SRG 13:13) and Trinity College, Cambridge, to N.C. We are grateful to Lindsay Newbold and Anna Oliver (CEH, Wallingford, UK) for providing assistance with the molecular analysis.

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Correspondence to Nick A. Cutler.

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Cutler, N.A., Arróniz-Crespo, M., Street, L.E. et al. Long-Term Recovery of Microbial Communities in the Boreal Bryosphere Following Fire Disturbance. Microb Ecol 73, 75–90 (2017).

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  • Boreal forest
  • Climate change
  • Microbial community structure
  • Feather mosses
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Post-fire succession