Fire intensity regulates the short-term postfire response of the microbiome in Arctic tundra soil

Elisabeth Ramm, Per Lennart Ambus, Silvia Gschwendtner, Chunyan Liu, Michael Schloter, Michael Dannenmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Arctic tundra fires have been increasing in extent, frequency and intensity and are likely impacting both soil nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) cycling and, thus, permafrost ecosystem functioning. However, little is known on the underlying microbial mechanisms, and different fire intensities were neglected so far. To better understand immediate influences of different fire intensities on the soil microbiome involved in nutrient cycling in permafrost-affected soil, we deployed experimental fires with low and high intensity on an Arctic tundra soil on Disko Island, Greenland. Soil sampling took place three days postfire and included an unburned control. Using quantitative real-time PCR, copy numbers of 16S and ITS as well as of 17 genes coding for functional microbial groups catalyzing major steps of N and P turnover were assessed. We show that fires change the abundance of microbial groups already after three days with fire intensity as key mediating factor. Specifically, low-intensity fire significantly enhanced the abundance of chiA mineralizers and ammonia-oxidizing archaea, while other groups were not affected. On the contrary, high-intensity fire decreased the abundance of chiA mineralizers and of microbes that fix dinitrogen, indicating a dampening effect on N cycling. Only high-intensity fires enhanced ammonium concentrations (by an order of magnitude). This can be explained by burned plant material and the absence of plant uptake, together with impaired further N processing. Fire with high intensity also decreased nirK-type denitrifiers. In contrast, after fire with low intensity there was a trend for a decreased nosZ: (nirK+nirS) ratio, indicating – together with increased nitrate concentrations – an enhanced potential for nitric oxide and nitrous oxide emissions. Concerning P transformation, only gcd was affected in the short term which is important for P solubilization. Changes in gene numbers consistently showed the same contrasting pattern of elevated abundance with low fire intensity and decreased abundance with high fire intensity. Differentiating fire intensities is therefore crucial for further, longer-term studies of fire-induced changes in N and P transformations and potential nutrient-climate feedbacks of permafrost-affected soils.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116627
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • Arctic
  • Fire intensity
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Soil microbiome
  • qPCR


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