The stoichiometric legacy of fire regime regulates the roles of micro-organisms and invertebrates in decomposition

Orpheus M. Butler, Tom Lewis, Mehran Rezaei Rashti, Sarah C. Maunsell, James Elser, Chengrong Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Decadal-scale increases in fire frequency have the potential to deplete ecosystems of essential nutrients and consequently impede nutrient-limited biological processes via stoichiometric imbalance. Decomposition, a fundamental ecosystem function and strong driver of future fire occurrence, is highly sensitive to nutrient availability and is, therefore, particularly important in this context. Here we show that 40 yr of quadrennial (4yB) and biennial (2yB) prescribed burning result in severely P- and N-depleted litter stoichiometry, respectively, relative to fire exclusion. These effects exacerbated the nutrient limitation of microbial activities, constraining litter decomposition by 42.1% (4yB) and 23.6% (2yB) relative to unburned areas. However, invertebrate-driven decomposition largely compensated for the diminished capacity of micro-organisms under 4yB, suggesting that invertebrates could have an important stabilizing influence in fire-affected ecosystems. This effect was strongly positively coupled with the strength of microbial P-limitation and was not obviously or directly driven by fire regime-induced changes in invertebrate community assemblage. Together, our results reveal that high-frequency fire regimes promote nutrient-poor, carbon-rich ecosystem stoichiometry and, in doing so, disrupt ecosystem processes and modify the relative functionality of micro-organisms and invertebrates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02732
JournalEcology
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

Fingerprint

fire regime
invertebrate
invertebrates
decomposition
microorganisms
degradation
ecosystems
nutrients
stoichiometry
ecosystem
nutrient
litter
prescribed burning
microbial activity
nutrient availability
nutrient limitation
ecosystem function
biological processes
micro-organism
carbon

Keywords

  • decay
  • eco-enzymes
  • invertebrates
  • litter
  • N : P ratio
  • phosphorus limitation
  • prescribed burning
  • stoichiometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

Cite this

The stoichiometric legacy of fire regime regulates the roles of micro-organisms and invertebrates in decomposition. / Butler, Orpheus M.; Lewis, Tom; Rezaei Rashti, Mehran; Maunsell, Sarah C.; Elser, James; Chen, Chengrong.

In: Ecology, 01.01.2019.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Butler, Orpheus M. ; Lewis, Tom ; Rezaei Rashti, Mehran ; Maunsell, Sarah C. ; Elser, James ; Chen, Chengrong. / The stoichiometric legacy of fire regime regulates the roles of micro-organisms and invertebrates in decomposition. In: Ecology. 2019.
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