Fire affects the taxonomic and functional composition of soil microbial communities, with cascading effects on grassland ecosystem functioning

Sihang Yang, Qiaoshu Zheng, Yunfeng Yang, Mengting Yuan, Xingyu Ma, Nona R. Chiariello, Kathryn M. Docherty, Christopher B. Field, Jessica L.M. Gutknecht, Bruce A. Hungate, Audrey Niboyet, Xavier Le Roux, Jizhong Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Fire is a crucial event regulating the structure and functioning of many ecosystems. Yet few studies have focused on how fire affects taxonomic and functional diversities of soil microbial communities, along with changes in plant communities and soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) dynamics. Here, we analyze these effects in a grassland ecosystem 9 months after an experimental fire at the Jasper Ridge Global Change Experiment site in California, USA. Fire altered soil microbial communities considerably, with community assembly process analysis showing that environmental selection pressure was higher in burned sites. However, a small subset of highly connected taxa was able to withstand the disturbance. In addition, fire decreased the relative abundances of most functional genes associated with C degradation and N cycling, implicating a slowdown of microbial processes linked to soil C and N dynamics. In contrast, fire stimulated above- and belowground plant growth, likely enhancing plant–microbe competition for soil inorganic N, which was reduced by a factor of about 2. To synthesize those findings, we performed structural equation modeling, which showed that plants but not microbial communities were responsible for significantly higher soil respiration rates in burned sites. Together, our results demonstrate that fire ‘reboots’ the grassland ecosystem by differentially regulating plant and soil microbial communities, leading to significant changes in soil C and N dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-442
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank staffs of the Jasper Ridge Global Change Experiment for site preserving and sampling assistance. This study was funded by grants from the US Department of Energy, the US NSF (DEB‐0092642/0445324), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41430856, 41877048, and 41825016), the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB15010102), the Packard Foundation, the Morgan Family Foundation, and the French CNRS/INSU–EC2CO Program (project INTERACT).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • Californian grasslands
  • GeoChip
  • climate change
  • fire
  • high-throughput sequencing
  • microbial communities


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