Alison L. White


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The influence of postfire recovery and environmental conditions on boreal vegetation
Alexis Gardiner Jorgensen, Raquel Alfaro‐Sánchez, Steven G. Cumming, Alison L. White, Geneviève É. Degré‐Timmons, Nicola J. Day, M. R. Turetsky, Jill F. Johnstone, Xanthe J. Walker, Jennifer L. Baltzer
Ecosphere, Volume 14, Issue 7

Abstract Climate change is increasing the frequency and extent of fires in the boreal biome of North America. These changes can alter the recovery of both canopy and understory vegetation. There is uncertainty about plant and lichen recovery patterns following fire, and how they are mediated by environmental conditions. Here, we aim to address these knowledge gaps by studying patterns of postfire vegetation recovery at the community and individual species level over the first 100+ years following fire. Data from vegetation surveys collected from 581 plots in the Northwest Territories, Canada, ranging from 1 to 275 years postfire, were used to assess the influence of time after fire and local environmental conditions on plant community composition and to model trends in the relative abundance of several common plant and lichen species. Time after fire significantly influenced vegetation community composition and interacted with local environmental conditions, particularly soil moisture. Soil moisture individually (in the absence of interactions) was the most commonly significant variable in plant and lichen recovery models. Patterns of postfire recovery varied greatly among species. Our results provide novel information on plant community recovery after fire and highlight the importance of soil moisture to local vegetation patterns. They will aid northern communities and land managers to anticipate the impacts of increased fire activity on both local vegetation and the wildlife that relies on it.


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Fire characteristics and environmental conditions shape plant communities via regeneration strategy
Nicola J. Day, Alison L. White, Jill F. Johnstone, Geneviève É. Degré‐Timmons, Steven G. Cumming, Michelle C. Mack, M. R. Turetsky, Xanthe J. Walker, Jennifer L. Baltzer
Ecography, Volume 43, Issue 10

© 2020 The Authors. Ecography published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos Climate change is altering disturbance regimes outside historical norms, which can impact biodiversity by selecting for plants with particular traits. The relative impact of disturbance characteristics on plant traits and community structure may be mediated by environmental gradients. We aimed to understand how wildfire impacted understory plant communities and plant regeneration strategies along gradients of environmental conditions and wildfire characteristics in boreal forests. We established 207 plots (60 m2) in recently burned stands and 133 plots in mature stands with no recent fire history in comparable gradients of stand type, site moisture (drainage) and soil organic layer (SOL) depth in two ecozones in Canada's Northwest Territories. At each plot, we recorded all vascular plant taxa in the understory and measured the regeneration strategy (seeder, resprouter, survivor) in burned plots, along with seedbed conditions (mineral soil and bryophyte cover). Dispersal, longevity and growth form traits were determined for each taxon. Fire characteristics measured included proportion of pre-fire SOL combusted (fire severity), date of burn (fire seasonality) and pre-fire stand age (time following fire). Results showed understory community composition was altered by fire. However, burned and mature stands had similar plant communities in wet sites with deep SOL. In the burned plots, regeneration strategies were determined by fire severity, drainage and pre- and post-fire SOL depth. Resprouters were more common in wet sites with deeper SOL and lower fire severity, while seeders were associated with drier sites with thinner SOL and greater fire severity. This led to drier burned stands being compositionally different from their mature counterparts and seedbed conditions were important. Our study highlights the importance of environment–wildfire interactions in shaping plant regeneration strategies and patterns of understory plant community structure across landscapes, and the overriding importance of SOL depth and site drainage in mediating fire severity, plant regeneration and community structure.


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Wildfire severity reduces richness and alters composition of soil fungal communities in boreal forests of western Canada
Nicola J. Day, Kari E. Dunfield, Jill F. Johnstone, Michelle C. Mack, M. R. Turetsky, Xanthe J. Walker, Alison L. White, Jennifer L. Baltzer
Global Change Biology, Volume 25, Issue 7

Wildfire is the dominant disturbance in boreal forests and fire activity is increasing in these regions. Soil fungal communities are important for plant growth and nutrient cycling postfire but there is little understanding of how fires impact fungal communities across landscapes, fire severity gradients, and stand types in boreal forests. Understanding relationships between fungal community composition, particularly mycorrhizas, and understory plant composition is therefore important in predicting how future fire regimes may affect vegetation. We used an extreme wildfire event in boreal forests of Canada's Northwest Territories to test drivers of fungal communities and assess relationships with plant communities. We sampled soils from 39 plots 1 year after fire and 8 unburned plots. High-throughput sequencing (MiSeq, ITS) revealed 2,034 fungal operational taxonomic units. We found soil pH and fire severity (proportion soil organic layer combusted), and interactions between these drivers were important for fungal community structure (composition, richness, diversity, functional groups). Where fire severity was low, samples with low pH had higher total fungal, mycorrhizal, and saprotroph richness compared to where severity was high. Increased fire severity caused declines in richness of total fungi, mycorrhizas, and saprotrophs, and declines in diversity of total fungi and mycorrhizas. The importance of stand age (a surrogate for fire return interval) for fungal composition suggests we could detect long-term successional patterns even after fire. Mycorrhizal and plant community composition, richness, and diversity were weakly but significantly correlated. These weak relationships and the distribution of fungi across plots suggest that the underlying driver of fungal community structure is pH, which is modified by fire severity. This study shows the importance of edaphic factors in determining fungal community structure at large scales, but suggests these patterns are mediated by interactions between fire and forest stand composition.