Ecosystem Function

Effects of fire and oak wilt on belowground processes in an oak-savanna forest ecotone

The oak savanna was once one of the most common vegetation types in North America, but it is currently endangered due to the suppression of fire, climate changes and spread of plant diseases. In recent years, oak wilt a disease caused by invasive pathogens, is threatening the persistence of the remaining fragments of oak savannas across the United States. Fire and disease are two kinds of disturbances that have impacts on ecosystem properties separately, but together these impacts can either amplify or dampen the severity of either disturbance. Thus, our goal was to disentangle the effect of fire and oak wilt on belowground ecosystem properties. Specifically, we will evaluate the effect of these disturbances on soil respiration (CO2 emissions) and nutrient cycling through net nitrogen mineralization.

Oak savanna-forest ecotone in Cedar Creek Ecosystem Reserve in Minnesota. Left: prescribed fire, right: signs of oat wilt on oak species