Rapid shifts in soil nutrients and decomposition enzyme activity in early succession following forest fire

Joseph E. Knelman, Emily B. Graham, Scott Ferrenberg, Aurélien Lecoeuvre, Amanda Labrado, John L. Darcy, Diana R. Nemergut, Steven K. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


While past research has studied forest succession on decadal timescales, ecosystem responses to rapid shifts in nutrient dynamics within the first months to years of succession after fire (e.g., carbon (C) burn-off, a pulse in inorganic nitrogen (N), accumulation of organic matter, etc.) have been less well documented. This work reveals how rapid shifts in nutrient availability associated with fire disturbance may drive changes in soil enzyme activity on short timescales in forest secondary succession. In this study, we evaluate soil chemistry and decomposition extracellular enzyme activity (EEA) across time to determine whether rapid shifts in nutrient availability (1-29 months after fire) might control microbial enzyme activity. We found that, with advancing succession, soil nutrients correlate with C-targeting β-1,4-glucosidase (BG) EEA four months after the fire, and with N-targeting β-1,4-N-acetylglucosaminidase (NAG) EEA at 29 months after the fire, indicating shifting nutrient limitation and decomposition dynamics. We also observed increases in BG:NAG ratios over 29 months in these recently burned soils, suggesting relative increases in microbial activity around C-cycling and C-acquisition. These successional dynamics were unique from seasonal changes we observed in unburned, forested reference soils. Our work demonstrates how EEA may shift even within the first months to years of ecosystem succession alongside common patterns of post-fire nutrient availability. Thus, this work emphasizes that nutrient dynamics in the earliest stages of forest secondary succession are important for understanding rates of C and N cycling and ecosystem development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number347
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 15 2017


  • Carbon
  • Decomposition
  • Disturbance
  • Ecosystem process
  • Exoenzymes
  • Extracellular enzymes
  • Forest fire
  • Nitrogen
  • Soil enzymes
  • Succession


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