Response of fungal communities to fire in a subtropical peatland

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Purpose: Wildfire, an increasing disturbance in peatlands, could dramatically change carbon stocks and reshape plant/microbial communities, with long-lasting effects on peatland functions. Soil fungi are important in controlling the belowground carbon and nutrient cycling in peatlands; however, the impact of altered fire regimes on these fungi is still unclear. Methods: We assessed fungal abundance, composition, and diversity across four soil depths (0–5 cm, 6–10 cm, 11–15 cm, 16–20 cm) under low-severity and high-severity fire in a subtropical peatland in the southeastern USA. Results: Low-severity fire significantly increased fungal Shannon diversity and saprotrophic fungi in the 0–5 cm soil layer immediately after fire and then retracted within 2 years. This pattern was not observed below 5 cm soils. The dominant fungal class − Archaeorhizomycetes declined initially and then returned to pre-low-severity fires levels at 0–5 cm depths. Time since low-severity fire was a primary driver of fungal composition in the 0–10 cm soil depth, while spatial distance among sites affected the deeper soils (11–20 cm). The fungal Shannon diversity failed to recover in the unburned state even 30 years after high-severity fire, especially in 6–20 cm soil layers. Stratification patterns of the fungal community were diminished by high-severity fire. Soil properties (either phenolics or carbon) were the primary drivers in shaping fungal community reassembly after high-severity fire across all soil depths. Conclusion: Collectively, the fungal communities seem to be highly resilient to low-severity fire, but not to high-severity fire in the shrub-dominated coastal peatlands.





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Tian, J, H Wang, R Vilgalys, M Ho, N Flanagan and CJ Richardson (2021). Response of fungal communities to fire in a subtropical peatland. Plant and Soil, 466(1-2). pp. 525–543. 10.1007/s11104-021-05070-0 Retrieved from

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Rytas J. Vilgalys

Professor of Biology

My scientific work includes traditional and modern research approaches to studying all areas of mycology including systematics, evolution, medical mycology, plant pathology, genetics/genomics, and ecology.  I am best known for my involvement in the transition of fungal systematics from a non-quantitative, largely morphologically based science to the rigorous genome-based discipline that it is today.  For the past 20 years, my lab has been increasingly involved in the study of fungal “ecogenomics” using targeted and shotgun metagenomics which link molecular function with fungal diversity.  In collaboration with medical mycologists and basic scientists at Duke Medical Center, I have also helped to bring an evolutionary biology perspective toward the study of human mycoses.


Neal Flanagan

Visiting Assistant Professor

Curtis J. Richardson

Research Professor of Resource Ecology in the Division of Environmental Science and Policy

Curtis J. Richardson is Professor of Resource Ecology and founding Director of the Duke University Wetland Center in the Nicholas School of the Environment. Dr. Richardson earned his degrees from the State University of New York and the University of Tennessee.

His research interests in applied ecology focus on long-term ecosystem response to large-scale perturbations such as climate change, toxic materials, trace metals, flooding, or nutrient additions. He has specific interests in phosphorus nutrient dynamics in wetlands and the effects of environmental stress on plant communities and ecosystem functions and services. The objectives of his research are to utilize ecological principles to develop new approaches to environmental problem solving. The goal of his research is to provide predictive models and approaches to aid in the management of ecosystems.

Recent research activities: 1) wetland restoration of plant communities and its effects on regional water quality and nutrient biogeochemical cycles, 2) the development of ecosystem metrics as indices of wetland restoration success, 3) the effects of nanomaterial on wetland and stream ecosystem processes, 4) the development of ecological thresholds along environmental gradients, 5) wetland development trends and restoration in coastal southeastern United States, 6) the development of an outdoor wetland and stream research and teaching laboratory on Duke Forest, 7) differential nutrient limitation (DNL) as a mechanism to overcome N or P limitations across trophic levels in wetland ecosystems, and 8) carbon sequestration in coastal North Carolina pocosins.

Richardson oversees the main analytical lab in NSOE, which is open to students and faculty. Dr. Richardson has been listed in Who's Who in Science™ annually since 1989 and was elected President of the Society of Wetland Scientists in 1987-88. He has served on many editorial review committees for peer-reviewed scientific journals, and he is a past Chair of the Nicholas School Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy. Dr. Richardson is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society of Wetland Scientists, and the Soil Science Society of America.

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