Microbiome-mediated response to pulse fire disturbance outweighs the effects of fire legacy on plant performance

Daniel Revillini, Aaron S. David, Eric S. Menges, Kevin N. Main, Michelle E. Afkhami, Christopher A. Searcy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fire plays a major role in structuring plant communities across the globe. Interactions with soil microbes impact plant fitness, scaling up to influence plant populations and distributions. Here we present the first factorial manipulation of both fire and soil microbiome presence to investigate their interactive effects on plant performance across a suite of plant species with varying life history traits. We conducted fully factorial experiments on 11 species from the Florida scrub ecosystem to test plant performance responses to soils with varying fire histories (36 soil sources), the presence/absence of a microbiome, and exposure to an experimental burn. Results revealed interactive ‘pulse’ effects between fire and the soil microbiome on plant performance. On average, post-fire soil microbiomes strongly reduced plant productivity compared to unburned or sterilized soils. Interestingly, longer-term fire ‘legacy’ effects had minor impacts on plant performance and were unrelated to soil microbiomes. While pulse fire effects on plant–microbiome interactions are short-term, they could have long-term consequences for plant communities by establishing differential microbiome-mediated priority effects during post-disturbance succession. The prominence of pulse fire effects on plant–microbe interactions has even greater import due to expected increases in fire disturbances resulting from anthropogenic climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalNew Phytologist
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • disturbance
  • fire
  • microbial mediation
  • plant performance
  • soil microbiome
  • succession

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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