Authors: A. Stinca, M. Ravo, R. Marzaioli, G. Marchese, A. Cordella, F. A. Rutigliano, A. Esposito
- Department of Environmental Biological and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Technologies, University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli, Via Vivaldi 43, 81100 Caserta, Italy
- Genomix4Life S.r.l., Via Allende, 84081 Baronissi (Salerno),
Date: September 2020
In the context of global warming and increasing wildfire occurrence, this study aims to examine, for the first time, the changes in multi-level biodiversity and key soil features related to soil functioning in a burned Mediterranean beech forest. Two years after the 2017 wildfire, changes between burned and unburned plots of beech forest were analyzed for plant communities (vascular plant and cover, bryophytes diversity, structural, chorological, and ecological variables) and soil features (main chemical properties, microbial biomass and activity, bacterial community composition, and diversity), through a synchronic study. Fire-induced changes in the micro-environmental conditions triggered a secondary succession process with colonization by many native pioneer plant species. Indeed, higher frequency (e.g., Scrophularia vernalis L., Rubus hirtus Waldst. and Kit. group, and Funaria hygrometrica Hedw.) or coverage (e.g., Verbascum thapsus L. subsp. thapsus and Digitalis micrantha Roth ex Schweigg.) of the species was observed in the burned plots, whereas the typical forest species showed a reduction in frequency, but not in cover, except for Fagus sylvatica subsp. sylvatica. Overall, an increase in plant species and family richness was found in the burned plots, mainly in the herbaceous and bryophyte layers, compared to the unburned plots. Burned plots showed an increase in therophytes, chamaephytes, cosmopolites, steno-Mediterranean and Atlantic species, and a decrease in geophytes and Eurasiatic plants. Significant differences were found in burned vs. control soils for 10 phyla, 40 classes, 79 orders, 145 families, 342 genera, and 499 species of bacteria, with about 50% of each taxon over-represented and 50% under-represented in burned than in control. Changes in bacterial richness within several families (reduction in Acidobacteriaceae, Solibacteraceae, Rhodospirillaceae, and Sinobacteraceae; increase in Micrococcaceae, Comamonadaceae, Oxalobacteraceae, Pseudomonadaceae, Hymenobacteraceae, Sphingomonadaceae, Cytophagaceae, Nocardioidaceae, Opitutaceae, Solirubrobacteraceae, and Bacillaceae) in burned soil were related to fire-induced chemical changes of soil (pH, electrical conductivity, and cation exchange capacity). No evident effect of the wildfire was found on organic C content, microbial biomass (total microbial carbon and fungal mycelium) and activity, and microbial indexes (fungal percentage of microbial C, metabolic quotient, and quotient of mineralization), suggesting that soil functions remained unchanged in the burned area. Therefore, we hypothesize that, without an additional disturbance event, a re-establishment of beech forest can be expected but with an unpredictable time of post-fire succession.