Changes in assembly processes in soil bacterial communities following a wildfire disturbance

Scott Ferrenberg, Sean P. O'neill, Joseph E. Knelman, Bryan Todd, Sam Duggan, Daniel Bradley, Taylor Robinson, Steven K. Schmidt, Alan R. Townsend, Mark W. Williams, Cory C. Cleveland, Brett A. Melbourne, Lin Jiang, Diana R. Nemergut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

331 Scopus citations


Although recent work has shown that both deterministic and stochastic processes are important in structuring microbial communities, the factors that affect the relative contributions of niche and neutral processes are poorly understood. The macrobiological literature indicates that ecological disturbances can influence assembly processes. Thus, we sampled bacterial communities at 4 and 16 weeks following a wildfire and used null deviation analysis to examine the role that time since disturbance has in community assembly. Fire dramatically altered bacterial community structure and diversity as well as soil chemistry for both time-points. Community structure shifted between 4 and 16 weeks for both burned and unburned communities. Community assembly in burned sites 4 weeks after fire was significantly more stochastic than in unburned sites. After 16 weeks, however, burned communities were significantly less stochastic than unburned communities. Thus, we propose a three-phase model featuring shifts in the relative importance of niche and neutral processes as a function of time since disturbance. Because neutral processes are characterized by a decoupling between environmental parameters and community structure, we hypothesize that a better understanding of community assembly may be important in determining where and when detailed studies of community composition are valuable for predicting ecosystem function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1102-1111
Number of pages10
JournalISME Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing
  • Beta diversity
  • Betaproteobacteria
  • Community assembly
  • Firmicutes
  • Niche vs neutral processes


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