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Graduate Defense: Sabrina Schuler

October 22 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm MDT

Thesis Information

Title: Fire Effects on Soil Properties: Amending Post-fire Soils with Native Microbial Communities and Biochar to Improve Sagebrush Performance

Program: Master of Science in Biology

Advisor: Dr. Marie-Anne de Graaff, Biological Sciences

Committee Members: Dr. Marcelo Serpe, Biological Sciences, and Dr. Leonora Bittleston, Biological Sciences


Fire has been shown to affect biogeochemical properties and microbial community composition in soils within the sagebrush steppe ecosystem. Losses of essential structural and functional components, such as soil organic matter or microbial elements, can impact soil recovery and therefore native plant reestablishment. These shifts in ecosystem states may lead to variable outcomes for successful sagebrush restoration. There is uncertainty about the magnitude and direction of these effects because post-fire biotic and abiotic conditions influence these edaphic responses. Moreover, post-burn management strategies, such as broadcast herbicide applications, are likely to mediate the effect of fire on soil properties, thus further compounding this uncertainty. We analyzed and compared pre- and post-burn soil properties from three sites varying in fire history, post-burn vegetation, and post-burn herbicide application to capture the differential impacts. Considering the complexities surrounding fire influences on soil properties and the implementation of science-based management, it is imperative understand the diverse impacts before applying soil recovery practices that support native plant reestablishment.

The outcomes of fire can have profound, yet vastly different, influences on soil properties; however, soil amendments may be able to augment soil recovery. Previous research has shown that the addition of native soil microbial communities and biochar can improve ecosystem restoration efforts through soil recovery. Yet, the effects that these soil amendments may have on post-burn soil properties and sagebrush performance across sites are unclear. We conducted a full factorial experiment by growing sagebrush seed with live native soil inocula and biochar amendments for three months to analyze the impacts on sagebrush performance and soil properties. Taken together, these findings capture the influences of multiple fires and separate management strategies on soil properties, and how certain soil amendments may redirect soil recovery to aid in sagebrush restoration.