The ISME Journal: Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology 16(7) , 1853-1863 ( 2022)
Increasing wildfire severity, which is common throughout the western United States, can have deleterious effects on plant regeneration and large impacts on carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling rates. Soil microbes are pivotal in facilitating these elemental cycles, so understanding the impact of increasing fire severity on soil microbial communities is critical. Here, we assess the long-term impact of high-severity fires on the soil microbiome. We find that high-severity wildfires result in a multi-decadal (>25 y) recovery of the soil microbiome mediated by concomitant differences in aboveground vegetation, soil chemistry, and microbial assembly processes. Our results depict a distinct taxonomic and functional successional pattern of increasing selection in post-fire soil microbial communities. Changes in microbiome composition corresponded with changes in microbial functional potential, specifically altered C metabolism and enhanced N cycling potential, which related to rates of potential decomposition and inorganic N availability, respectively. Based on metagenome-assembled genomes, we show that bacterial genomes enriched in our earliest site (4 y since fire) harbor distinct traits such as a robust stress response and a high potential to degrade pyrogenic, polyaromatic C that allow them to thrive in post-fire environments. Taken together, these results provide a biological basis for previously reported process rate measurements and explain the temporal dynamics of post-fire biogeochemistry, which ultimately constrains ecosystem recovery.