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Building Inclusive Capacity and Partnerships to Tackle Soil-Water- Microbe-Root Feedbacks in Forest Regeneration after Wildfires

Active Dates 9/1/2022-5/31/2025
Program Area Atmospheric System Research
Project Description
The combined impacts of wildfires and climate change pose a risk of conversion of forests to shrub- or grasslands due to forest regeneration failure. Such forest losses have occurred around the world, but the mechanisms driving forest losses remain elusive. To understand how the increasing frequency of severe wildfires and drought impacts forest regeneration requires investigating how fire changes soil moisture dynamics, soil microbial communities, and soil chemistry and cascading effects on plant drought tolerance, post-fire seedling regeneration, and ecosystem function. Furthermore, engaging demographically broad groups of institutions, students, and scientists in efforts to mitigate detrimental effects of wildfire is critical to build capacity to maximize US research potential and to more fully engage diverse groups in seeking solutions to societal grand challenges. We will use interdisciplinary capacity building, partnership development, and leveraging of Department of Energy resources among diverse regional institutions to position our team to shed light on the disruptions that fire imposes on temperate conifer forests from microscopic to ecosystem scales. We pursue the following objectives: 1) Quantify the impacts of fire frequency on soil properties and identify tipping points for soil function and conifer vs shrub recovery in the field; 2) Identify the underlying fine-scale mechanisms of soil and microbial facilitation (or inhibition) of post-fire regeneration for tree and shrub seedlings; and 3) Develop a conceptual model to connect the impacts of wildfire across scales, from microscale soil biotic and abiotic alterations to macroscale consequences for post-fire forest resilience. We will develop partnerships among small, primarily undergraduate, first-generation college, and minority-serving regional campuses, a local Native Tribe stewarding reservation forests, and a national laboratory to catalyze participation in environmental science research and develop capabilities in climate and environmental science research at under-represented regional institutions.
Award Recipient(s)
  • Washington State University, Pullman (PI: Cheeke, Tanya)